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A Taste of Lobster History

A Taste of Lobster History

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• When the first European settlers reached North America, lobsters were so plentiful that they would reportedly wash ashore in piles up to 2 feet high. Their bounty made them a precious source of sustenance during hard times—and gave them a nasty reputation as the poor man’s protein.

• Native Americans used lobsters to fertilize their crops and bait their fishing hooks. They also ate the abundant crustaceans, preparing them by covering them in seaweed and baking them over hot rocks. According to tradition, this cooking method inspired the classic New England clambake.

• At first, lobsters were gathered by hand along the shoreline. In the late 1700s, special boats known as smacks, which featured tanks with holes that allowed seawater to circulate, were introduced in Maine for the transport of live lobsters. The workers who operated these shellfish-friendly vessels were known as smackmen. It was not until the mid-19th century that lobster trapping, also first practiced in Maine, became a more popular way to collect the sea creatures.

• Dirt-cheap because they were so copious, lobsters were routinely fed to prisoners, apprentices, slaves and children during the colonial era and beyond. In Massachusetts, some servants allegedly sought to avoid lobster-heavy diets by including stipulations in their contracts that they would only be served the shellfish twice a week.

• The first lobster pound was established in Vinalhaven, Maine, in 1876. The town is still home to a thriving lobster fishery.

• Lobster began to shed some of its negative reputation and gain a following among discriminating diners, particularly in Boston and New York City, during the 1880s. Prices immediately began to rise.

• Because lobster was considered a delicacy by the time World War II began, it was not rationed. The booming wartime economy allowed wealthy cravers of crustaceans to consume them at unprecedented rates.

• American lobsters—or Maine lobsters, as they are commonly known—can weigh more than 40 pounds and grow up to 3 feet long. The largest lobster on record was caught off Novia Scotia in 1988. It weighed in at 44 pounds and was 42 inches long. Scientists believe it was at least 100 years old—twice the lifespan of the average lobster.

• The lobster, which has changed little over the last 100 million years, is known for its unusual anatomy. Its brain is located in its throat, its nervous system in its abdomen, its teeth in its stomach and its kidneys in its head. It also hears using its legs and tastes with its feet. One of the few things lobsters have in common with humans: They tend to favor one front limb, meaning they can be right-clawed or left-clawed.

• When crowded into tight quarters such as store display tanks, lobsters tend to become cannibalistic. Sellers tightly band their claws to prevent them from feasting on their neighbors.

• Though considered a rich and decadent food, lobster meat contains fewer calories than an equal portion of skinless chicken breast. It also boasts healthy omega-3 fatty acids, potassium and the vitamins E, B-12 and B-6.

History of the Lobster Roll

Lobster rolls are a special summer sandwich. Native to New England clam shacks and roadside stands, it’s the coastal brother of the popular hot dog. But who invented the lobster roll? The history of the lobster roll is a fascinating one.

Traditionally, the best lobster rolls have been found in the states of Maine, Massachusetts and Connecticut and in seaside hotspots like the Cape Cod peninsula. But did you know you can make this sandwich in the comfort of your home with a little know-how and a few simple ingredients?

How to make lobster rolls you ask? It’s easier than you think. Check out our Maine lobster roll kits containing classic split top rolls and pounds of sweet tail, knuckle and claw meat. Lobster rolls taste better when they are made at home.

It doesn’t matter if you’re an amateur cook or a professional chef, anyone can construct a good roll. See our tips for making both hot buttered and traditional lobster rolls at home. Read on to find out why America loves this succulent seafood sandwich — from fast food joints to swanky restaurants.


Although several other groups of crustaceans have the word "lobster" in their names, the unqualified term "lobster" generally refers to the clawed lobsters of the family Nephropidae. [3] Clawed lobsters are not closely related to spiny lobsters or slipper lobsters, which have no claws (chelae), or to squat lobsters. The most similar living relatives of clawed lobsters are the reef lobsters and the three families of freshwater crayfish.

Body Edit

Lobsters are invertebrates with a hard protective exoskeleton. [4] Like most arthropods, lobsters must shed to grow, which leaves them vulnerable. During the shedding process, several species change color. Lobsters have eight walking legs the front three pairs bear claws, the first of which are larger than the others. The front pincers are also biologically considered legs, so they belong in the order Decapods ("ten-footed"). [5] Although lobsters are largely bilaterally symmetrical like most other arthropods, some genera possess unequal, specialized claws.

Lobster anatomy includes two main body parts: the cephalothorax and the abdomen. The cephalothorax fuses the head and the thorax, both of which are covered by a chitinous carapace. The lobster's head bears antennae, antennules, mandibles, the first and second maxillae. The head also bears the (usually stalked) compound eyes. Because lobsters live in murky environments at the bottom of the ocean, they mostly use their antennae as sensors. The lobster eye has a reflective structure above a convex retina. In contrast, most complex eyes use refractive ray concentrators (lenses) and a concave retina. [6] The lobster's thorax is composed of maxillipeds, appendages that function primarily as mouthparts, and pereiopods, appendages that serve for walking and for gathering food. The abdomen includes pleopods (also known as swimmerets), used for swimming as well as the tail fan, composed of uropods and the telson.

Lobsters, like snails and spiders, have blue blood due to the presence of hemocyanin, which contains copper. [7] In contrast, vertebrates and many other animals have red blood from iron-rich hemoglobin. Lobsters possess a green hepatopancreas, called the tomalley by chefs, which functions as the animal's liver and pancreas. [8]

Lobsters of the family Nephropidae are similar in overall form to a number of other related groups. They differ from freshwater crayfish in lacking the joint between the last two segments of the thorax, [9] and they differ from the reef lobsters of the family Enoplometopidae in having full claws on the first three pairs of legs, rather than just one. [9] The distinctions from fossil families such as the Chilenophoberidae are based on the pattern of grooves on the carapace. [9]

Coloring Edit

Typically, lobsters are dark colored, either bluish green or greenish brown as to blend in with the ocean floor, but they can be found in a multitude of colors. [10] [11] Lobsters with atypical coloring are extremely rare, accounting for only a few of the millions caught every year, and due to their rarity, they usually are not eaten, instead being released back into the wild or donated to aquariums. Often, in cases of atypical coloring, there is a genetic factor, such as albinism or hermaphroditism. Notably, the New England Aquarium has a collection of such lobsters, called the Lobster Rainbow, on public display. Special coloring does not appear to have an effect on the lobster's taste once cooked with the exception of albinos, all lobsters possess astaxanthin, which is responsible for the bright red color lobsters turn after being cooked. [12]

Lobster Color Chart
Color Prevalence Notes Notable specimens
albino 1 in 100,000,000 [13] Also called white translucent ghost crystal. [14] [15] [16]
"cotton candy" 1 in 100,000,000 [17] Also called pastel. [18] Possibly a sub-type of albino. [17]
blue 1 in 1,000,000 [19] to 1 in 2,000,000 [20] [21] [22] Caused by a genetic defect. [19] Lord Stanley (2019, Massachusetts) [21] [22] (2019, St. Louis) [23]
calico 1 in 30,000,000 [24] Eve (2019, Maryland) [25]
orange 1 in 30,000,000 [26]
split-colored 1 in 50,000,000 [27] Almost all split-coloreds are hermaphroditic. [14]
"Halloween" 1 in 50,000,000 [27] to 1 in 100,000,000 [28] Sub-type of split-colored, specifically orange and black. [29] Pinchy (2012, Massachusetts) [30]
red 1 in 10,000,000 [29] to 1 in 30,000,000 [31]
yellow 1 in 30,000,000 [32]

Lobsters live up to an estimated 45 to 50 years in the wild, although determining age is difficult. [33] In 2012, a report was published describing how growth bands in calcified regions of the eyestalk or gastric mill in shrimps, crabs and lobsters could be used to measure growth and mortality in decapod crustaceans. [34] Without such a technique, a lobster's age is estimated by size and other variables this new knowledge "could help scientists better understand the population and assist regulators of the lucrative industry". [35]

Research suggests that lobsters may not slow down, weaken or lose fertility with age, and that older lobsters may be more fertile than younger lobsters. This longevity may be due to telomerase, an enzyme that repairs long repetitive sections of DNA sequences at the ends of chromosomes, referred to as telomeres. Telomerase is expressed by most vertebrates during embryonic stages, but is generally absent from adult stages of life. [36] However, unlike most vertebrates, lobsters express telomerase as adults through most tissue, which has been suggested to be related to their longevity. Telomerase is especially present in 'Green Spotted' lobsters - whose markings are thought to be produced by the enzyme interacting with their shell pigmentation. [37] [38] [39] Lobster longevity is limited by their size. Moulting requires metabolic energy and the larger the lobster, the more energy is needed 10 to 15% of lobsters die of exhaustion during moulting, while in older lobsters, moulting ceases and the exoskeleton degrades or collapses entirely leading to death. [40] [41]

Lobsters, like many other decapod crustaceans, grow throughout life and are able to add new muscle cells at each moult. [42] Lobster longevity allows them to reach impressive sizes. According to Guinness World Records, the largest lobster ever caught was in Nova Scotia, Canada, weighing 20.15 kilograms (44.4 lb). [43] [44]

Lobsters live in all oceans, on rocky, sandy, or muddy bottoms from the shoreline to beyond the edge of the continental shelf. They generally live singly in crevices or in burrows under rocks. [45] [ better source needed ]

Lobsters are omnivores and typically eat live prey such as fish, mollusks, other crustaceans, worms, and some plant life. They scavenge if necessary, and are known to resort to cannibalism in captivity. However, when lobster skin is found in lobster stomachs, this is not necessarily evidence of cannibalism because lobsters eat their shed skin after moulting. [46] While cannibalism was thought to be nonexistent among wild lobster populations, it was observed in 2012 by researchers studying wild lobsters in Maine. These first known instances of lobster cannibalism in the wild are theorized to be attributed to a local population explosion among lobsters caused by the disappearance of many of the Maine lobsters' natural predators. [47]

In general, lobsters are 25–50 cm (10–20 in) long, and move by slowly walking on the sea floor. However, when they flee, they swim backward quickly by curling and uncurling their abdomens. A speed of 5 m/s (11 mph) has been recorded. [48] This is known as the caridoid escape reaction.

Symbiotic animals of the genus Symbion, the only known member of the phylum Cycliophora, live exclusively on lobster gills and mouthparts. [49] Different species of Symbion have been found on the three commercially important lobsters of the North Atlantic Ocean: Nephrops norvegicus, Homarus gammarus, and Homarus americanus. [49]

Lobster is commonly served boiled or steamed in the shell. Diners crack the shell with lobster crackers and fish out the meat with lobster picks. The meat is often eaten with melted butter and lemon juice. Lobster is also used in soup, bisque, lobster rolls, cappon magro, and dishes such as lobster Newberg and lobster Thermidor.

Cooks boil or steam live lobsters. When a lobster is cooked, its shell's color changes from blue to orange because the heat from cooking breaks down a protein called crustacyanin, which suppresses the orange hue of the chemical astaxanthin, which is also found in the shell. [50]

According to the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the mean level of mercury in American lobster between 2005 and 2007 was 0.107 ppm. [51]

History Edit

Lobster has been eaten by humans since the prehistoric period. Large piles of lobster shells near areas populated by fishing communities attest to the crustacean’s extreme popularity during this period. Evidence indicates that lobster was being consumed as a regular food product in fishing communities along the shores of Britain, South Africa, Australia, and Papua New Guinea as far back as 100,000 years ago. During the stone age, lobster became a significant source of nutrients among European coastal dwellers. Historians suggest lobster was an important secondary food source for the majority of European coastal dwellers, and that it was a primary food source for coastal communities in Britain during this time. [52]

During the mid to late Roman period, lobster became a popular mid range delicacy. The price of lobster could vary widely due to a variety of factors, but evidence indicates that lobster was regularly transported inland over long distances to meet popular demand. A mosaic found in the ruins of Pompeii suggests that the spiny lobster was of considerable interest to the Roman population during the early imperial period. [53]

Lobster was a popular food among the Moche people of Peru during the period between 50 CE and 800 CE. Besides its use as food, lobster shells were also used to create a light pink dye, ornaments, and tools. A mass produced lobster shaped effigy vessel dated to this period attests to the popularity of lobster at this time, though the purpose of this vessel has not been identified. [54]

The Viking period saw an increase of lobster and other shellfish consumption among northern Europeans. This can be attributed to the overall increase of marine activity at this time due to the development of better boats and the increasing cultural investment in building ships and training sailors. The consumption of marine life went up overall in this period, and the consumption of lobster went up in accordance with this general trend. [55]

Unlike fish, however, lobster had to be cooked within two days of leaving salt water, limiting the availability of lobster to inland dwellers. Thus lobster more than fish became a food primarily available to the relatively well off, at least among non-coastal dwellers. [56]

Lobster is first mentioned in cookbooks during the medieval period. Le Viandier de Taillevent, a French recipe collection written around 1300, suggests that lobster (also called saltwater crayfish) be “Cooked in wine and water, or in the oven eaten in vinegar.” [57] Le Viandier de Taillevent is considered to be one of the first “haut cuisine” cookbooks, giving advice on how to cook meals that would have been quite elaborate for the time period and making usage of expensive and hard to obtain ingredients. Though the original edition which includes the recipe for lobster was published before the birth of French court cook Guillaume Tirel, Tirel later expanded and republished this recipe collection, suggesting that the recipes included in both editions were popular among the highest circles of French nobility, including King Philip VI. [58] The inclusion of a lobster recipe in this cookbook, especially one which does not make use of other more expensive ingredients, attests to the popularity of lobster among the wealthy.

The French household guidebook Le Ménagier de Paris, published in 1393, includes no less than five recipes including lobster, which vary in elaboration. [59] A guidebook intended to provide advice for women running upper class households, Le Ménagier de Paris is similar to its predecessor in that it indicates the popularity of lobster as a food among the upper classes. [60]

That lobster was first mentioned in cookbooks during the 1300s and that it is only mentioned in two during this century should not be taken as an implication that lobster was not widely consumed before or during this time. Recipe collections were virtually non existent before the 1300s, and only a handful exist for the medieval period as a whole.

During the early 1400s, lobster was still a popular dish among the upper classes. During this time, influential households used the variety and variation of species served at feasts to display wealth and prestige. Lobster was commonly found among these spreads, indicating that it continued to be held in high esteem among the wealthy. In one notable instance, the Bishop of Salisbury offered at least 42 kinds of crustaceans and fish at his feasts over a nine-month period, including several varieties of lobster. However, lobster was not a food exclusively accessed by the wealthy. The general population living among the coasts made use of the various food sources provided by the ocean, and shellfish especially became a more popular source of nutrition. Among the general population, lobster was generally eaten boiled during the mid-15th century, but influence of the cuisine of higher society can be seen in that it was now also regularly eaten cold with vinegar. The inland peasantry would still have generally been unfamiliar with lobster during this time. [61]

Lobster continued to be eaten as both a delicacy and a general staple food among coastal communities until the late 17th century. During this time, the influence of the Church and the government regulating and sometimes banning the consumption of meat during certain periods continued to encourage the popularity of seafood and especially shellfish as a meat alternative among all classes. Throughout this period, lobster was eaten fresh, pickled, and salted. From the late 17th century onward, developments in fishing, transportation, and cooking technology allowed for lobster to more easily make its way inland, and the variety of dishes involving lobster and cooking techniques used with the ingredient expanded. [62] However, these developments coincided with a decrease in the lobster population, and lobster increasingly became a delicacy food, valued among the rich as a status symbol and less likely to be found in the diet of the general population. [63]

In North America, the American lobster was not originally popular among European colonists. This was partially due to the European inlander's association of lobster with barely edible salted seafood, and partially due to a cultural opinion that seafood was a lesser alternative to meat which did not provide either the taste or nutrients desired. It was also due to the extreme abundance of lobster at the time of the colonists' arrival, which contributed to a general perception of lobster as an undesirable peasant food. [64] The American lobster did not achieve popularity until the mid-19th century, when New Yorkers and Bostonians developed a taste for it, and commercial lobster fisheries only flourished after the development of the lobster smack, [65] a custom-made boat with open holding wells on the deck to keep the lobsters alive during transport. [66]

Prior to this time, lobster was considered a poverty food or as a food for indentured servants or lower members of society in Maine, Massachusetts, and the Canadian Maritimes. Some servants specified in employment agreements that they would not eat lobster more than twice per week, [67] however there is limited evidence for this. [68] [69] Lobster was also commonly served in prisons, much to the displeasure of inmates. [70] American lobster was initially deemed worthy only of being used as fertilizer or fish bait, and until well into the 20th century, it was not viewed as more than a low-priced canned staple food. [71]

As a crustacean, lobster remains a taboo food in the dietary laws of Judaism and certain streams of Islam. [note 1] [72]

Grading Edit

Caught lobsters are graded as new-shell, hard-shell, or old-shell, and because lobsters which have recently shed their shells are the most delicate, an inverse relationship exists between the price of American lobster and its flavor. New-shell lobsters have paper-thin shells and a worse meat-to-shell ratio, but the meat is very sweet. However, the lobsters are so delicate, even transport to Boston almost kills them, making the market for new-shell lobsters strictly local to the fishing towns where they are offloaded. Hard-shell lobsters with firm shells, but with less sweet meat, can survive shipping to Boston, New York, and even Los Angeles, so they command a higher price than new-shell lobsters. Meanwhile, old-shell lobsters, which have not shed since the previous season and have a coarser flavor, can be air-shipped anywhere in the world and arrive alive, making them the most expensive.

Killing methods and animal welfare Edit

Several methods are used for killing lobsters. The most common way of killing lobsters is by placing them live in boiling water, sometimes after having been placed in a freezer for a period of time. Another method is to split the lobster or sever the body in half lengthwise. Lobsters may also be killed or immobilized immediately before boiling by a stab into the brain (pithing), in the belief that this will stop suffering. However, a lobster's brain operates from not one but several ganglia and disabling only the frontal ganglion does not usually result in death. [73] The boiling method is illegal in some places, such as in Reggio Emilia, Italy, where offenders face fines up to €495. [74] Lobsters can be killed by electrocution prior to cooking, with one device, the CrustaStun, applying a 110-volt, 2 to 5 amp electrical charge to the animal. [75] The Swiss government banned boiling lobster live without stunning them first. [76] Since March 2018, lobsters in Switzerland need to be knocked out, or killed instantly, before they are prepared. They also get other protections while in transit. [77] [78]

The killing methods most likely to cause pain and distress are: [73]

  • Any procedures whereby the abdomen is separated from the thorax
  • The removal of tissue, flesh, or limbs while the crustacean is alive and fully conscious
  • Placing crustaceans in slowly heated water to the boiling point
  • Placing crustaceans directly into boiling water
  • Placing marine crustaceans in fresh water
  • Unfocused microwaving of the body as opposed to focal application to the head

Lobsters are caught using baited one-way traps with a color-coded marker buoy to mark cages. Lobster is fished in water between 2 and 900 metres (1 and 500 fathoms), although some lobsters live at 3,700 metres (2,000 fathoms). Cages are of plastic-coated galvanized steel or wood. A lobster fisher may tend as many as 2,000 traps.

Around year 2000, owing to overfishing and high demand, lobster aquaculture expanded. [79] However, as of 2008, no lobster aquaculture operation had achieved commercial success, mainly because of lobsters' tendency towards cannibalism and the slow growth of the species. [80]

How Lobster Went From Prison Food to an Expensive Delicacy

I’m not sure about you, but lobster is a rare treat in my household cause it’s so expensive. Just look at Luke’s Lobster. They charge $16 for a fairly small Maine-style lobster roll. Honestly, who wants to pay all that for a minuscule amount of meat?

But let me tell you that the lobster I often long for wasn’t such a rare delicacy back in the day. Actually, it was much less than that cause it was considered straight up garbage.

So how did lobster go from complete crap to a fine dinner that the elite eat, you ask? Well, to find out you’re gonna have to hear some history, and thanks to Business Insider and the History Channel, we got the scoop.

Here we go… back when the first European settlers came over to North America, they said that there were just so many dang lobsters that they would pile up two feet high and wash ashore in Massachusetts Bay Colony. Just imagine, lobsters on lobsters on lobsters.

Photo courtesy of

And instead of this leading to seafood festivals and celebrations like the clambake, colonists were just super embarrassed by all of, what they called, the “cockroaches of the sea.” These hard-shelled creatures were even used as fertilizer and fish bait cause there were just so many around.

Lobster was also known as the poor man’s meal because the overabundance of these guys made it easy for people with no money to get their protein. In fact, these crustaceans were fed to prisoners, apprentices and slaves.

Photo courtesy of

However, all this started to change in the mid 1800’s because of canned food and trains. #technology

Lobster actually became one of the most popular canned products on the market. And although canned lobster doesn’t sound too fresh and appealing to me, I guess you gotta do what you gotta do when you don’t live near the east coast and need some inexpensive food.

Photo courtesy of

With train tickets becoming affordable, more and more people were also heading out to out to New England cities.

This made fresh lobster become even more popular and, because of this new demand, in the 1880’s restaurants and markets were able to mark up the prices. So by World War II, lobster was considered a delicacy and, as a result, what was once a poor man’s food became only affordable for them richer peeps.

What is a Maine Lobster?

First you have to select the right species of lobster: Homarus americanus, also known as the American Lobster, Boston Lobster, New England Lobster, Atlantic Lobster, Northern Lobster, Nova Scotia lobster, and of course the Maine Lobster. This large crustacean has a long body and five sets of legs, and one pair that features big, strong claws. In fact, almost half of the lobster’s weight comes from its claws. Its shell can be mottled brown, green and black. In cold waters, like that of the northern Atlantic, lobsters grow at a slower rate. This is why Maine lobster meat is firmer and more succulent. The cool temperatures keep the salt water from permeating the meat.

What’s the Difference between a Maine Lobster and a Spiny Lobster?

The Maine lobster should never be confused with the spiny lobster, Panulirus arus or rock lobster. Maine lobster is easily distinguished from the “spiny” lobster by its large heavy claws. The spiny lobster is caught in warm waters off Florida and in the Caribbean and southern California coast. The spiny lobster features long, strong antennae and a pair of horns above the eyes, but with no big front claws. The spiny lobster has tiny claws and is usually marketed as uncooked frozen tails. It is often processed as cheap tails and sold at the big club stores. Because of its sweet, delicious flavor and tender texture Maine lobster is the world’s most prized catch.


In January 1891 the play Thermidor by Victorien Sardou opened in the Comédie-Française theatre. The play took its name from a summer month in the French Republican Calendar, during which the Thermidorian Reaction in 1794 occurred, overthrowing Robespierre and ending the Reign of Terror. The recipe of Lobster Thermidor was possibly created at Café de Paris by Leopold Mourier, a former assistant to Auguste Escoffier, or it was created in 1894 at Chez Marie. [3] [4] Another source says it was created at Maison Maire, whose owner Mlle. Paillard sold the restaurant to Mourier. [5] Maison Maire was a Parisian restaurant near the Théâtre de la Porte Saint-Martin. Paillard created the name of the recipe due to the play's notoriety. The play was highly controversial and was closed by the authorities, re-opening in March 1896.

The Lobster Thermidor at Maison Maire was served like homard Américain, which was made with tomatoes, cayenne, and brandy, but with the addition of English mustard. [2] An early London recipe for Homard à l'Américaine referred to à la Thermidor as a version with the addition of English mustard. [6] An early American recipe for Lobster Thermidor left out the tomatoes, cayenne, and mustard and added cream sauce thickened with Béarnaise sauce and a sprinkling of grated cheese. [7] It can be served with Newburg sauce but is differentiated from Lobster Newberg by the addition of tomatoes. [8]

Lobster history you may not know

Let us pause today to consider, if not praise, the mighty lobster. As usual, I am out of step with the crowd, since I have never consumed a lobster, despite covering 30-odd Maine Lobster Festivals. Of course, no one offered a free one in all that time, even when I accepted the role of Blackbeard the Pirate.

I can remember the pan my father used in that long-ago West Roxbury kitchen when he took those squirming spiders out of a paper bag and dropped them into boiling water. I heard the poor devils scratching at the side of the pot (I would, too) and later declined the offer of the delicacy. I would rather have meatloaf.

Half my family loves lobster (the good half) and half of them would kill your sister Grace to get one.

It is now time for your lobster history lesson.

I know you don’t know, or even care, but the lobster was once worshipped by the Moche people (not to be confused with Mooks) in Peru and the delicacy was often included in their art, such as it was.

In literature (I know you don’t remember this), the lobsters did a “lobster quadrille” in “Alice in Wonderland,” while doing their karaoke version of “Will you, won’t you, won’t you join the dance,” followed by “’Tis the voice of the lobster, I heard him declare.” Both songs were later covered by Otis Spann, I believe.

You don’t remember that, but you will recall that on the television show “Friends,” Phoebe, my favorite, reports that lobsters hold claws instead of hands and mate for life. She refers to the star-crossed Ross and Rachel as “lobsters.”

The red-faced lobster has been consumed throughout history in both high quarters and low.

The European wild lobster is even more expensive and rare than the American lobster, if you can imagine. It was consumed chiefly by the royal and aristocratic families of France and the Netherlands and is seen in Dutch paintings of the 16th and 17th centuries.

In North America, the American lobster was so plentiful that they were used as garden fertilizer. Imagine your neighbors raiding your garden and stealing the fertilizer.

The lobster did not become a popular food until the mid-19th century, when New Yorkers and Bostonians developed a taste for the delicacy. It wasn’t until someone figured out that a “lobster smack” could get the lobster alive and well to the major markets that the practice took hold.

In the bad old days, eating lobster was considered a mark of poverty or as a food for indentured servants or lower members of society in Maine, Massachusetts and the Atlantic Maritimes. People in these regions would bury lobster shells rather than dispose of them in their rubbish so the nosy neighbors would not know they were actually eating the stuff.

Before the American Revolution, Boston dockworkers went on strike, protesting having to eat lobster more than three times a week. Talk about oppression of the working class! Servants specified in employment agreements that they would not have to eat lobster more than twice per week, the poor devils.

Nowadays we brag to the neighbors about eating lobster, always including how much they cost.

Lobsters are usually 10 to 20 inches long, but according to the Guinness (“It’s good for you”) Book of World Records, the largest on record was landed in Nova Scotia and weighed 44.4 pounds. Scientists tell us that lobsters may exhibit “negligible senescence” and can effectively live indefinitely, barring injury, disease, capture or falling into boiling water.

I can just see my father wrestling that 44.4-pound lobster into that little pan.

In a Mark Preston tradition, about 100 pounds of lobster will be cooked and consumed today at Cobb Manor. None for me, thanks — I will finish that meatloaf.

A Taste of Lobster History

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The strange history of lobster stew

The name stew conjures up a mental image of meat with potatoes, carrots, peas, corn, or turnips. Newcomers to Maine ordering a lobster stew from a restaurant menu are sometimes surprised to find before them a bowl of succulent pieces of lobster swimming in warm cream but with no veggies in sight. Have you ever wondered why our Maine lobster stew is even called stew, or why it is made the way it is?

No milk? No cream? How could it be a lobster stew? Photo courtesy of Hancock Gourmet Lobster Company.

Lobster stew, oyster stew, scallop stew, even tomato stew are more about verbs than nouns. Two and three hundred years ago, recipe titles were as likely to reflect what the cook did with the ingredients as what the resulting dish was called. In English and American cookbooks during the 1700s, such as Hannah Glasse’s Art of Cookery, first published in 1747, we find many individual recipes titled according to the process used: “to stew oysters,” “to fry eels” while others name the result, as in “a ragoo of eggs” or “buttered shrimps.”

One hundred years later, in the early 1800s, American cookbook authors used more nouns than verbs to describe recipes. Cakes, bread, pies — both sweet and savory — and soups were usually titled with nouns, as in “pound cake,” “muffins,” “pumpkin pie,” and “oyster soup.” Still, recipes instructing cooks about how to prepare meat, fish, pickles, vegetables, and some desserts tended to use verbs in the title: “to bake a shad,” “to pickle peaches,” and “to mash turnips.”

By mid-1800s most cookbooks dropped the prepositional phrase “to stew,” “to bake” and so forth, and switched over to a past tense as in “stewed lobster,” “boiled mutton,” or “potato balls fried.” Desserts were named with nouns and adjectives such as “apple pie” or “peach pudding.” These cookbooks established a pattern we are familiar with today, though modern recipe titles are very likely to add some descriptive adjectives to tell where a recipe comes from or to elaborate on the ingredients, for example, “Shrimp Creole,” “Swedish meatballs” or “One Egg Cake.”

For a giddy little spell in the early 1900s, silly and not very revealing names like “Shrimp Wiggle,” “Pink Bunny,” and “Snickerdoodles” were very popular. That tendency has settled down in recent times to detailed recipe names like “Two-Toned Mashed Potatoes with Goat Cheese” which leave little to the imagination.

So through time, our recipe names have shifted from the verb and adverb versions (“to stew lobster” evolves into “stewed lobster”) to a noun and adjective form such as “lobster stew.” None of these titles give us a clue about what is in the item, though.

Seafood stews in the 1700s were very likely to be cooked seafood, warmed in butter with wine or stock, with mace, cloves or nutmeg and sometimes thickened with bread crumbs. No cream. With the spicing and wine they were a good deal more flavorful than most modern people are accustomed to.

While oyster stew calling for cream appears before the Civil War, a cream-based lobster stew seems not to have been considered an option at that time. In fact, seafood in milk does not really appear much at all. Even the earliest chowders were waterbased, and milk was seldom added until after the 1840s.

In 1880, Maria Parloa wrote her New Cookery Book that, “Canned lobster can be used for cutlets, stews, curries and patties, can be escaloped, or served on toast.” She gives directions for “stewed” lobster: “The meat of a two-and-a-half pound lobster, cut into dice: two tablespoons of butter, two of flour, one pint of stock or water, a speck of cayenne, salt and pepper to taste. Let the butter get hot, and add the dry flour. Stir until perfectly smooth, when add the water, gradually, stirring all the while. Season to taste. Add the lobster heat thoroughly, and serve.” Still no cream.

By the 1890s one or two recipes for lobster stew show up with milk in them, but classic New England cookbooks like Fanny Farmer’s Boston Cooking School Cookbook do not even mention either lobster stew or stewed lobster, never mind whether it had milk or cream in it. They do, however, contain recipes for Lobster Bisque which resemble very closely the lobster stew we know today. A 1913 edition of Recipes for Seafood assembled and published by Boston seafood producers E.A. Rich Company, whose business it was to think up as many ways to use all kinds of seafood as possible, provided four lobster stew recipes by name, one of which is our milk or cream-based one. By 1949 the Fanny Farmer cookbook included a now-familiar cream and milk-based lobster stew.

I’ll bet anything that lots of home cooks from the later 1800s through the middle of the 1900s prepared lobster stew just as they made oyster stew, using no recipe, because it was so very simple to warm up lobster in butter, then add milk or cream to the pan. In any event, in 1944 the poet Robert P. Tristram Coffin, who grew up in Brunswick, Maine, wrote a glowing report of his wife’s lobster stew with which she graced their dinner table through the early decades of the 1900s. Coffin provides details on how she assembled it, including handling all the shells, tomally, and meat. He speaks of milk, and rich cream. He says, “This is no ordinary stew, no curtain raiser to a feast. It is the whole business. The man who gets outside of two bowls of this potage is through eating for some hours, and he is a nobler man.”

Coffin adds, “Perhaps two sour pickles. Maybe two rounds of pilot bread. But no other fringes to this feast. This stew is all in all.”

Who needs vegetables in a stew that is “all in all”?

Sandy Oliver is a food historian and freelance food writer living in Islesboro, Maine. Her cookbook entitled Maine Home Cooking: 300 Recipes from Downeast Kitchens will be published in fall 2012 by Downeast Publishing.

Fresh Maine Lobsters From Maine Lobster Now

Now that your mind is blown and your mouth is watering, it's time to cook up some fresh Maine lobster. No matter where you live, Maine Lobster Now can provide fresh, live lobster that is caught in the Atlantic Ocean. Our wild lobsters are never raised with hormones or antibiotics so you can rely on genuine and natural taste. When you order a lobster from Maine Lobster Now, we ship your live lobster overnight to ensure freshness and quality. Experience Maine from the comfort of your home or bring elegance to your dinner party with freshly cooked whole lobster. If whole lobster doesn't suit your style, choose from our large selection of lobster products and other seafood. From lobster tails to delicious lobster rolls, Maine Lobster Now provides the highest quality seafood caught fresh from the Atlantic Ocean and shipped right to your door.

Watch the video: ΜΟΝΑΧΙΚΟΣ ΑΣΤΑΚΟΣ - LONELY LOBSTER (July 2022).


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