June 7, 2008


     My daughter Sandy loves lobster. Being inland, she’d eat at Red Lobster restaurant a dozen times a month if she weren’t budget-challenged.

     Personally, lobster’s not my favorite, but I’m growing to like it more as I age. I’m also a bit more snobbish than Sandy. I prefer my lobster fresh from the ocean—meaning I reserve my lobster-chowdown for visits to New England’s coast. On this trip I’ve added an additional limitation, choosing to indulge only when someone else is also indulging. I can’t do that with Monte, a vegetarian unappreciative of the crusty crustacean.

     When Nancy Sayre, a friend from Slippery Rock building a home in Castine, Maine, offered to sit with us during our lunch at the variety store, I decided it was time to order a lobster roll. She said the store’s sandwich was really good, and my taste buds agreed as I chomped a sandwich filled with tasty chunks of lobster.

     My whole lobster would be reserved for Portsmouth, New Hampshire, my childhood home. Or so I thought. Plans change, however.

     Richard Walker is a distant cousin of my mother’s who contacted me last year as he started diving into genealogy research. (He hit the jackpot: I sent him all I had.) When I called my E-male contact, he and his wife Loretta invited Monte and me to their home for lunch (in lieu of our original plans to meet at a crowded Hampton Beach restaurant). We gladly accepted. Living on the coast within walking distance of the beach, they know a lobsterman who’d called them the night before, saying he had surplus lobsters. When we arrived (a half hour late, of course) I saw a plate piled high with brilliant red lobsters. The first thing I said after saying hello was “Let me take a picture for Jordan.” We had a wonderful time. I ate two lobsters, savoring them sloppily. One was soft-shelled and one hard-shelled.

     So I want my cousin Gail, who left New Hampshire for Texas, to know: I ate your share of “lobsta”.

     This trip is teaching me a lot about lobsters. Their shell doesn’t grow although they do, so they shed multiple times in their life, mostly as they are growing. Soft-shelled lobsters have molted and have less but sweeter meat. The hard-shelled lobsters haven’t recently molted—their meat is plentiful but can be tougher (both of my lobsters were tantalizingly good).

     The lobster season is late this year. Some lobstermen even took vacations because of their scarcity, due to the severe winter and rains that left an excess of cold water at the bottom of the sea that delayed their schedule. It’s mid-August and the lobster season is just getting started.

    While traveling one day, I saw a truck with a huge blue lobster painted prominently on it’s side. It was an eye-catcher, and that’s all I thought it was. Then a news story broke announcing the capture of a blue lobster near the Isles of Shoals off the New England coast.

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     The situation reminded me of the time I was making a butterfly cake for Sandy’s sixth birthday. My day care kids were helping and wanted the insect to be blue. “Butterflies aren’t blue,” I told them smugly as I sought out an encyclopedia to show them pictures. To my amazement the kids were right. There are blue butterflies and the cake was iced in shades of blue.

     And there are blue lobsters. Dorothy Goldman—another distant cousin I met through the Internet—told us the rare lobster was being kept by Ricker’s Lobster Pound in New Castle, New Hampshire, before it moved to the Seacoast Science Center in Rye. So off we went on the “great blue lobster search.” And sure enough, we found it.

     I immediately asked the man I assume was Mr. Ricker if I could photograph it for my granddaughter (really, for me). He said yes and lifted it and a “normal” crustacean out of the water tank and put them in a crate. I now have pictures of the one in two million find.

     Internet and library material on blue lobsters is skimpy. Monte found two instances where they had been caught on the New England, in 1992 and 1994. Their color is caused by a lack of red and yellow pigment.

     The lobster, a member of the zoological phylum Anthropods, is related to the spider, cockroach and scorpion. It is of the biological class, Crustacea, and is identified as an “insect of the sea.”

     Maine is synonymous with lobster (and the blueberry). The Homarus Americanas, or “Maine lobster,” is found along a 1300-mile stretch of the Atlantic coast—from Cape Hatteras to Labrador. Fossils dredged up on Long Island Sound prove he’s looked the same for at least 100 million years. He looks like an armor-plated roach, and has a face only another lobster could love (the blue lobster looked VERY angry).     
     It’s no wonder the lobster hasn’t always been appreciated as much as it is today. Pilgrims placed little value on the American variety of lobster. They used its meat as poorhouse fare, donated to widows, orphans and like objects of public charity. Sometimes after a storm farmers would take piled up lobsters in carts and plow them by the ton into fields as fertilizer. The abundance of lobster and the contempt of them continued into the 19th century

     The Island Institute is sponsoring the Lobster-Tales project, intended to show inland consumers who purchase lobsters that the insect comes from real communities, not anonymous wholesalers or an idealized fishing village of yesteryear.

     At home in Laurel Mountain Borough I have a small collection of lobsters gathered on previous trips to the coast. I told Jordan she could be their “caretaker” during our trip and she couldn’t wait for the responsibility. She also expects something lobsterish in each communication, so we’ve become alerted to lobster items. I’ve found her a lobster hat, purse, T-shirt, and I’ve found material to make a skirt to complete the outfit. I expect she’ll be the best-dressed child in church when we return.    

     Meanwhile, the lobster’s activities on the ocean bottom include eating, reproducing and hiding. What a life!

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  1. I think it’s pretty cool when people make up their own “rules” about food – and when they make a point to eat the food of the local region when they are there. I’ve had buffalo in Saskatchewan, poutine in Quebec, alligator in Florida, chocolate in Pennsylvania, cheese (and chocolate) in Holland, and mushy peas in England. It’s a great way to really experience the culture of the area. And of course, lobster, I have at home. My rule is whole lobster at home or at a fish shack, but never at a fancy restaurant.

    Comment by Lobster Queen — August 30, 2009 @ 11:43 am | Reply

  2. I’ve never thought of a lobster as a cockroach, or in the cockroach family, rather; but, after getting a closer look at the blue lobster picture of yours I can somewhat see the resemblence! thanks, a lot, thanks to you, I probably will never look at a lobster the same again! I like to eat lobster but, really can’t afford to eat it often or as much as I’d like! I’ve eaten lobster in restaurants, including Red Lobster, and in Chinese food cuisine; I’ve even bought lobster tails in the past and cooked them at home; but, I’ve never had a whole lobster nor tried to cook one myself, though, I may have thought about it at times! My problem is this: I think I would have a serious problem eating anything whole with the eyes staring up at me, even if it is dead! Anyhow, I’d like to try a lobster in New England if I ever get the chance! Does the blue lobster, similiar to the blue crab? Well, I’m thinking that maybe it is; as it also has a soft shell, and is eaten whole, which I did eat on a sanwich once in Boston, in a place called, “The Barking Crab!”

    Comment by Julia — February 22, 2010 @ 9:10 pm | Reply

  3. I have cooked and ate a whole lobster recently; well, not too long ago! So, the above is no longer fully true, I guess I got a little more gutsy! The eye balls once the lobster is cooked pops out with a knife or some other type of sharp tool or object! Though messy, and not really worth it in my book, to buy and cook a whole lobster; especially when the all the good meat is mostly in the claws and in the tail, the rest is just too much of a mess and a job to bother with! I never tried soft shell lobster yet,though; if I ever go back to New England, or Boston, perhaps, then will I try it! It is way to messy to eat a whole lobster, unless the soft shell is similiar to a soft shell crab, where you can eat the whole thing, or most of it! Anyway, you made me hungry for seafood, I definately plan on having some seafood for supper now when I go home this evening! Julia

    Comment by Julia — April 11, 2011 @ 7:53 pm | Reply

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