A friend recently told me that he was moving to the Point Clear/Fairhope/Daphne, Ala. area. Upon hearing this I expressed my regret that he would no longer be living in town, immediately followed by the standard plea that I issue to everyone I know who moves to the Point Clear/Fairhope/Daphne area, “Call me when there is a jubilee.”
“Seriously,” I say. “Call me. I don’t care if it’s 3:00 a.m. All you have to do is say, ‘Robert, this is Al, there’s a jubilee going on right now.’” I can be on the eastern shore of the Mobile Bay in two hours depending on traffic, maybe a little quicker if the jubilee is producing more crabs than normal.
I have written of jubilees often. It’s because I dream of jubilees often. In the past I have stated: A jubilee is a spur-of-the-moment phenomenon in which various seafood species— shrimp, fish, crabs— move en masse to shallow waters and can easily be caught with dip nets or by hand.
I grew up hearing stories about jubilees in Point Clear where someone would run into the lobby of the Grand Hotel yelling, “Jubilee! Jubilee!” Hotel guests and locals would then grab a net, and an ice chest, or any container they could find, and walk out into shin-deep saltwater— thick with all manner of seafood— and scoop up blue crabs, shrimp, speckled trout, flounder, and several other Gulf species that might be trying to reach the shallows.
Years ago I was skeptical when I first heard of this phenomenon. It sounded fishy. No one I knew had ever been a part of jubilees, though many had heard of them. It seemed like one of those stories that hotels might use to promote and ongoing legend helping to aid and assist in public relations matters. Some hotels claim to be haunted. I assumed the Grand Hotel in Point Clear was claiming to magically be able to produce seafood en masse in the shallows of its shoreline.
It’s a real thing. A jubilee is a natural phenomenon that occurs when the oxygen level of the water is low, the temperature of the water is high, and a wind blows out of the east. It usually happens early in the morning or near dusk (now we know why Walter Anderson called it “the magic hour”) when the plankton hasn’t had time to break up and produce oxygen. It also occurs during a rising tide. It’s rare when all of those factors come together at once, but when they do it’s a seafood jackpot for those who are in the vicinity. Fish, shrimp, and crab head to shallow water in search of oxygen and local citizens head to the shoreline in search of supper.
From all accounts I have read, it’s a large amount of seafood that comes into the shallow waters and on shore. People leave with a pick-up truck bed of crabs that are over one foot deep, washtubs full of shrimp, and over 100 flounder that can be gigged easily. That is quite a haul.
For a seafood lover, I can’t imagine anything more thrilling. There is something romantic to me in a culture that lives on the water in an area where something like this can occur at any minute. I would love to be a part of that.
My wife thinks my dream of being a part of a jubilee one day is folly. She says, “Why would you want to be a party to mass shrimp suicide?”
My son said, “I wouldn’t want to swim in any water that is so bad it makes the fish beach themselves.”
“It’s not bad water, son. It’s good water.” It’s water that produces some of the world’s best seafood, and every once in a while, all of the stars align, the seafood gods shine down on the Bay and make it easy to catch and consume the fruits of the sea. The eastern shore of Mobile Bay is one of the only places in the country where this phenomenon occurs, and probably the only place where it consistently occurs. We had a mild jubilee on the Mississippi Gulf Coast a couple of years ago, but mostly fish washed ashore. During a Mobile bay jubilee there are crabs, shrimp, and all manner of fish.
Jubilees are real. Now if I could just get that phone call I’ve been waiting on for 30 years.
Crab Bread with Tomato Basil Concasse
1 Tbl butter
2 Tbl green onions, thinly sliced
1/4 cup diced red peppers
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
2 Tbl butter
2 Tbl flour
1/3 cup hot chicken stock
2 TBSP sherry
1 tsp lemon juice
1 Tbl hot sauce
1/2 pound cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup Swiss cheese, grated
1/2 pound Fresh lump crab meat
2 Tbl parsley, chopped
1 French Baguette, 16-20 inches in length
Preheat oven to 375.
Melt the first tablespoon of butter in a small sauté pan over a medium heat. Add in the green onions, peppers, salt and pepper and cook for 1 minute. Remove from the heat and set aside.
Melt the remaining two tablespoons of butter in a small sauté pan over a low heat. Stir in the flour to form a roux. Cook the roux for 3-4 minutes, stirring constantly, being careful not to burn the roux.
Whisk the hot stock, sherry and lemon juice into the roux mixture. Cook for 3-4 more minutes and remove from heat.
Place the softened cream cheese into an electric mixing bowl, and using the paddle attachment, beat it for 2-3 minutes. Scrape down the bowl using a rubber spatula, and then add the thickened stock mixture, peppers and onions and Swiss cheese. Blend until smooth.
Gently fold in the crab and parsley using a rubber spatula.
Cut the baguette in half lengthwise and spread the crab mixture evenly over the bread.
Place the two halves on a foil lined baking sheet and bake for twenty minutes.
Remove the bread from the oven and allow cool for 3-4 minutes. Using a sharp serrated knife, cut 2” wide slices. Arrange slices on a serving dish and top each piece with a teaspoon of the tomato concasse mixture.
Tomato Basil Concasse
1 1/2 cups Fresh Ripe Tomatoes, seeds removed, very small dice
1/2 tsp garlic, minced
1/2 tsp salt
1/8 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 TBSP freshly squeezed orange juice
1/4 cup fresh basil, chopped
2 TBSP extra virgin olive oil
Combine all ingredients.
Yield: 8 servings