31 July 2008


I’m just back from a vacation that included Maine. As soon as we arrived we went to a grocery store and bought milk for the kids, a head of lettuce, a pound of butter, and Geary’s Pale Ale. Then off to the lobster pound for lobsters. We were staying at a friend’s house, and while the pot of water came to a boil I headed to the lake for a swim to rinse off the 600 miles of driving we had just completed. While the lobsters boiled and steamed I changed into clean clothes, and we soon sat down to lobster, a green salad, and ale. Hard shell lobsters were going for around $10/pound and soft shell for $7/pound. Soft shells seem to have less meat, but they’re cheaper, so we bought both.

One of my first years in Maine – back in the late ’80s – lobster was going for $2.99/pound and lobstermen were giving lobsters to food shelves and senior centers rather than sell it at a loss. McDonald’s in the area sold lobster rolls and I’d buy lobster every time I had a day off. We’d head to Popham Beach State Park and with a Coleman two-burner we’d heat a pot with ocean water and cook the lobsters. I’d melt butter in whatever I had, and the beer was cold. Heaven! It still is.

Lobster is a favorite for me and my wife. We eat it annually in Maine and never anywhere else. Cracking the first claw, some of the trapped water squirts out – this time Henry got splashed – and as we pick and pull and suck and pry the meat from its shell, we’re happy to be covered in the salty spray. Lobster is good talking food; we nimbly slowly tear the lobster apart –leg after leg, joint by joint, peering into broken exoskeleton to see if a remaining meat morsel remains entangled in some fractured piece of body part. It’s messy, and we dip our findings in butter, lick our fingers and suck the tide high. We save the tail for last, and crack it from the top with our hands, pressing on the bottom plates, then turn it over, pry open the nearly clear underside and pull out (unsheathe?) a beautiful curled slug of juicy white meat. Dipping the jagged end into butter and taking that first bite of buttery tail meat is revelatory – how such a crustacean feeds us so well is worth thinking about. Rich, moist meat, buttery a la carte, the sea echoes in my mouth and I feel tidal surges as I chew. Chablis? Viognier? Yes, yes, but I’m a sucker for beer, enjoying this time the earthiness, not the ethereality, of such a taste, texture, feel. I chew the sea.

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