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After Work: Lobster

…Wearing a bib and eating with your hands is a quick way to break down any formality of dining no matter how starchy the white tablecloths are and how gleaming the crystal…

A Lobster Night at the club brings back many memories for Dona Gibbs, and also makes her consider the merits of…would you believe butter and lemon?

For lots more of Dona’s richly satisfying words please click on After Work in the menu on this page.

Summer is on the way. Or so restaurants specializing in seafood down here in South Florida would like us to think.

A large banner with a large red lobster was flying outside a local restaurant. Nothing quite says summer like lobster to a slightly homesick northeasterner like myself. I spotted this sign of summer’s approach our way to our own lobster destination: our club’s special Lobster Night that featured –you guessed it –lobster. Lobster and its traditional accompaniments of chowder, mussels, clams, corn on the cob and potatoes were dished up for happy multi-generational families, all wearing bibs.

In North American lobster wasn’t always a festive pricey dish. Back in the 1800s in Maine, it was the food of the poor. Laws were passed forbidding it to be served to prisoners more than once a week.

Lobsters were so abundant they were used to fertilize fields in Canada’s Maritime Provinces. The Pilgrims in Massachusetts could wade out into the water a few feet and pick them up.

That was then. Now lobstering is a $1.8 billion business with most of it done by big commercial operations with an ever-smaller number of down-Easter types in yellow oilskins with a sputtering trawler and a couple dozen traps.

Wearing a bib and eating with your hands is a quick way to break down any formality of dining no matter how starchy the white tablecloths are and how gleaming the crystal.

Tonight, however, to maintain an illusion of we is all ladies and gentlemen, the wait staff kindly offers to remove the lobster from its shell. Perhaps there is no sadder dish than five small pieces of lobster on a plate dwarfed by corn on the cob. The sight, however, is still enough to bring back all kinds of happy memories of summers long ago.

We once owned a summerhouse on an island. Besides the business of building and maintaining summerhouses and attending to the needs of the owners, the only other commerce was lobstering. It was a small-scale operation and in the twenty or so summers we spent on the island, it dwindled from fewer that five lobstermen to maybe two. One of these had-working men was also the island’s high school math teacher as well as greens superintendent for the nine-hole golf club.

“Our” lobsterman was a landscaper who had come on the island probably expecting only to work a summer or two. He met and married an idealistic young woman who was finding her after-college self. She baked and sold sticky buns and breads. They always handed over the lobster filled brown damp cardboard boxes with big bunches of basil. Very seventies vibe right through the eighties, nineties and probably still.

The island then and now has no glamour. No bright lights or neon. You had to make your own entertainment. Home cooked lobster dinners were ours.

Lobster Night at the club brought back the memories and the stories.

“You couldn’t wear nice clothes and you’d need a shower afterward,” my husband laughed.

“If we ate inside, I’d have to wash the windows the next day,” I added.

Our friends had their own story.

“We were living in Connecticut,” he began, “And we decided one Saturday at the last minute we’d like to have lobster. We drove to a pound and the only one left was huge,” his hands measured out an impressive two feet. Probably weighed twenty-five pounds. Nobody had wanted it.

“ We got it home and found we didn’t have a pot big enough to cook it in. We raced down to the hardware store. Got there right before they closed. Bought a garbage can. Took three hours before we got the water to boil.

“When we finally got it cooked, we couldn’t crack it open.”

He looked around the table. Everyone was rapt. Even his wife who’d probably heard the story thirty times or more.

“I put it down on the garage floor,” he chuckled. “And then I backed the car over it.”

He paused for effect, “It still didn’t crack.”

“Finally, we wrapped it up in a towel and took turns whacking it with a mallet. There was enough for everybody with leftovers. Like Thanksgiving turkey.”

Stories like ours send shivers through animal activists. And if they have their way, lobster dinners will go the way of songbird feasts.

Is boiling lobsters alive inhumane? I’ve always been ambivalent.

2005 Norwegian research says lobsters don’t feel the pain but a Scotch study says otherwise. Boiling lobster is illegal in Ruggio Emila, Italy, and carries a fine of up to 495 euros, according to a 2004 article in the London Telegraph.

Simon Bulkhaven, a British lawyer, has developed a device that he calls the CrustaStun that delivers 110-volt electroshock that he claims kills a lobster humanely in five seconds. He has sold three enormous $78,500 industrial versions so far. If you’re morbidly curious you can check out the CrustaStun website.

Whole Foods Market, a chain that champions organic, last year reported that its stores would no longer sell lobsters and crabs because of its concerns for “human treatment and quality of life.

Lobstermen who have long called their catch “bugs” scoff at the idea. You couldn’t expect them to do otherwise.

Lobster Night has me thinking all right. Do you know just how perilous the life of a lobster larva is? Only .1 percent of eggs that are dropped by the female will make it even to that stage. And do you realize that a lobster molts (shed its shell) over 20-25 times before it’s legal size. That takes about five to seven years. During the six to eight weeks it takes to develop its new suit of clothes, it hides out, naked and vulnerable to all kinds of predators.

Most of the time lobsters lead solitary lives, hiding in burrows or under rocks and prowling for food at night, walking for a mile or more in their searches. Scientists who study them report that their courtship and mating is a tender thing. It has to be – the female has to have just shed her shell

Lobsters can live for more than a hundred years and can grow to an enormous size. The Guinness Book of World Records reports that the largest lobster was caught in Nova Scotia, Canada and weighed 44.4 pounds. That was many, many molts and years of hiding. Certainly a lobster achievement.

The more I read about lobsters, the less palate pleasing they’ve become.

“I really don’t like lobster anymore, “ Ever-Enthusiastic husband tells me.

“Oh?”

He’s become a lobster activist, I think.

Yes, it saddens him to think of all the lobsters he’s consumed.

“ But what I really don’t like,” he confesses, “Is how it sticks in your teeth.”

When I think about it, what makes lobster so tasty are butter and lemon. The sides that traditionally surround lobster are really excuses for butter. Lots of butter. It oozes over the corn. It soaks the boiled potatoes.

Butter and lemon. Yum. Give me enough and I’ll never miss the lobster.


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