Made With Love

She-Crab Soup: the chowder of the South

Sterling Harris might well be called the father of the South Carolina crab industry. His company, the Blue Channel Corporation, offered many seafood products. It was established as a crabmeat processing plant in the mid-1930s was once located in Port Royal, and was successful in creating a market for its products and many industry jobs.

Prior to Harris coming on the scene in 1937, there were a few small plants producing a fresh, refrigerated product that had a short shelf life of about seven to 10 days. This limited the market and the amount that was produced.

Harris came from a family of men who made their living on the water and was interested in getting into the crab business. He knew if a way to can crabmeat could be developed -- one that retained the meat's flavor and appearance -- it would have a market all over the country and maybe the world. Harris worked to perfect the process. A patent eventually was earned and assigned to Blue Channel, which was incorporated in Centreville, Md.

At this time, the Chesapeake Bay crab population was in low supply. So Harris started south, stopping to sample the crab availability at each body of water until he reached Beaufort. Here he found not only great numbers of crabs but also the labor to harvest and process them. Harris rented a shed from the South Carolina Seafood Company on Lady's Island and set up canning equipment.

For years, Lowcountry cooks included crab stews and other dishes made from the crustacean. But South Carolina's She-Crab Soup, a counterpart to New England's clam chowder, did not come into being until 1909. The recipe in its present form was created by Robert Goodwyn Rhett's butler, William Deas. He was known for his culinary skills, and Rhett's wife asked Deas for a special item for a formal dinner she was hosting for President William Taft. She-Crab Soup was the result.

Real She-Crab Soup contains crab roe that is found in the crab before it is extruded as the sponge. Crab-picking houses sold the eggs separately from the meat to restaurants for use in the soup and to seafood markets for resale to their customers. Many list the requirements of the roe in the soup. But since the demise of the picking houses and factories, substitutes include crumbled egg yolk or even grated carrots, which supply an orange color to fool the diner into thinking crab roe is present.

Mary Harris prepared She-Crab Soup at Sea Pines Resort for 17 years. Her recipe is similar to William Deas' original.

She-Crab Soup

Mary Harris said the exact measurements and cooking time came from just knowing what it took.

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter

1 pint milk

1 pint half and half

Meat from about a dozen crabs, along with eggs (roe)

Salt, pepper and mace

A little flour

Sherry wine

Cook the flour and butter together for a few minutes and then slowly add milk with crab meat and seasoning. Cook this for about 25 to 30 minutes. Remove from heat; add the half and half and a little sherry. Serve.

Recipe from Mary Harris

Westendorff Crab Stew

4 dozen crabs, cleaned (shell removed and the body split in half)

2/3 cup oil

2/3 cup flour

2 cups chopped onions

1 cup chopped celery

4 cloves garlic

Juice of one lemon

1/2 cup parsley

1/2 cup tops of green onions

Dash of Worcestershire sauce

Salt and cayenne pepper, to taste

1 can tomato sauce

2 quarts hot water

In a large pot, mix flour and oil. Cook over medium heat until golden brown. Add all seasonings except green onions, parsley and lemon juice. Cook until done (about 5 minutes). Add tomato sauce, stir well. Add hot water. Bring to a rapid boil and reduce heat to a simmer. Add crabs, parsley, green onions and salt and pepper to taste.

Cook approximately one hour.

General Pate's Crab Soup

1 onion, minced

2 tablespoons butter

1 tablespoon flour

1 can (10.5-ounce) condensed tomato soup

1 quart half and half

12 ounces white crabmeat

Salt and pepper, to taste

1/4 cup sherry

Saute onion in butter, stir in flour and add tomato soup. Gradually stir in half and half and cook for 10 minutes, heating thoroughly, but do not boil. Add crabmeat, season to taste, add sherry and serve.