About Me

My photo
on the downward side of the age mountain.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Lobster Memories-

Summer and the 4th of July always flood my pea-brain with memories of lobsters. These days it's few and too far between when I can indulge in these pinching crustaceans. I live on another edge. The memories are always there to be relived and savored.

My introduction to lobster eating wasn’t in the summer but in the bleak late fall. My aunt and uncle had bought a home in Maine, well above Bush country and were fantasizing about turning it into a year round home. As we drove up Route 1 beyond Ellsworth, the road cut through the black night. There were no street lights to light our way. A lone light flickered up ahead denoting a cross road. We made a right turn onto a paved side road; which soon brought us to a driveway in front of a two story wooden home. A pick-up truck filled with lobster traps was parked in the driveway and inviting lights were lit in the kitchen.

My aunt and uncle were excited about the trip to Maine. We unbent ourselves and stretched in the cold fall air. The kitchen door opened and standing there waving us in was Lobster Man. I couldn’t see his face at first, it was in the shadows. I did hear his rolling Maine accent as he greeted my aunt and uncle by name. I was hugged and introduced, part of the “away folk”.

Lobster Man was big and beefy,not huge. He wore a matching outfit of grey green pants and shirt. A belt fastened tightly below his belly kept the pants up and cigarettes and matches filled his shirt pockets. There were white socks and well worn work boots at the end of his bandy-legs.

A hug from Lobster Man was a sensory experience. First was my physical crush next to an unknown person. A large body that some would call a beer belly but that beer belly was far from flaccid. It had been hauling traps for more than sixty years and was as firm as a curled bicep. Then there were the kaleidoscopes of smells. Sea smells, cigarette smells, burning wood, a touch of boat gasoline, and a hint of old fish. None of the smells were strong and offensive. They hung on Lobster Man’s body like an invisible cloak and were part of his personality.

I looked around the room and saw a Sears stove. On top was a big aluminum pot with a battered lid. Steam was escaping from the boiling pot. A little pot belly stove was glowing in the corner and the rectangular wooden table was encircled by sturdy mis-matched chairs with various chipped colors.

My aunt took control of the event and was quickly spinning stories of their recent tour of duty. Every once in awhile my uncle would interject a word or his own story into the conversation. I was left to watch and listen.

After awhile Lobster Man slipped outside and came back with a tub of lively lobsters. I had never seen them before and had only heard of them from my aunt and uncle. Lobster Man pushed the sea weed aside and I gazed at my dinner. Their dark shells moist from the sea glistened. They weren’t a uniform color but a greenish-black on top and orange below, the joints and claws had azure blue accents. The antennas were long sensuous appendages that lay straight along side the lobster ending at the tail.

Lobster Man picked up a specimen. It was mad and snapped its tail while the claw arms stretched out as if were flying. There were tiny hand-made wooden nails jammed in the claws to prevent them from pinching. One claw was larger than the other. I looked with amazement at this crustacean. Lobster Man showed me a trick. With his thick wrinkled thumb his slowly rubbed the lobster between its eyes. On the count of 10 the lobster lost its fight and by the count of 20 the lobster was limp in his grasp. Lobster Man winked and said we had relaxed it enough to be dropped in the pot.

I was given a turn at warming the lobster’s brain and we quickly filled the pot with lobsters. I was in for a shock for when they were done; they had turned a beautiful shade of reddish orange.

The table was covered in oil cloth and a healthy padding of newspaper. A small pot held melted butter. We were all given lobster crackers and little picks. I stared at the lobster on my plate and had no idea where to start. My aunt was expertly giving me directions but out of the corner of my eye I watched Lobster Man. Unlike tourists who ate the tail and claws then cast the shells away, Lobster Man started by breaking off the smallest walking legs. He then broke off the tiny “foot” and sucked the lobster nectar from the legs like they were flavored straws. I tried this and was soon flattening the soft leg with my teeth and extracting the smallest bits of meat.

Next Lobster Man broke the claws and laid them aside. He snapped the body and removed the tail. It was laid next to the claws. A pop off of the body shell showed the stomachs, brain, and other inedible bits. There was a white gelatinous film that was poached onto the underside of the shell; he ate that and I followed. Again it was just a sweet taste of the sea. After Lobster Man had exhausted all of the minor players in the feast, the claws and tail were eaten.

The claws took skill to crack without piercing the meat with the crushed shell. Just a pump of the cracker to apply enough pressure. There was a curious technique to extract the tail meat. By this time the lobster was warm. Lobster Man ripped off the tail fins as if he was bending back someone’s fingers; then he straightened the tail holding it in one had and pushed two of his fingers up the broken end. Quickly the whole tail meat emerged from the spot where the tail had been attached to the body. My lesson was complete. By this time we all were quietly dunking bits of lobster in butter and bringing the dripping pieces to our mouths.

I don’t remember if we were served other dishes at that meal. I’m sure there were no green vegetables but perhaps some soft rolls to soak up the butter. But really- when you eat lobster do you need anything else?

Queen Art-o-Eat

No comments: