Tuesday, December 19, 2006


It has been said that “it were a brave man who first eat an Oyster.”

True, dat. I imagine one caveman calling to another: “Hey, Grag! Looka this rock here! Holy Crap - it’s got a loogie in it! An’ I’m gonna eat it!”

As food, oysters are even more non-intuitive than eggs: “Hey, Grag! Looka this round thing here what came outta this chicken’s ass! I’m gonna eat it!”

But then there’s the noble Lobster, proof positive that humans will eat almost anything: “Hey, Grag! Looka this giant cockaroach I just pulled outta the water! I’m gonna eat it!”

Yes, it were a brave man who first eat a Lobster. Or a stupid one. And, if careless, one lacking a few digits. For lobsters - at least, the variety that live in the cold waters of North America’s eastern seaboard - have some honkin’ big pincers, and they’re not bashful about using them.

I have been known to consume a few of these giant crustaceans from time to time.

“But, Elisson! You’re a Jew! Ain’t that against the rules?”

Alas, it is. But the Dietary Laws have never been my strong suit, despite the fact that I have become somewhat more observant over the years. Face it: I come from a family where, like as not, the second Passover seder would consist of take-out pizza. Freethinkers, apikorsim (heretics), whatever you wanna call ’em, my parents were not what you would call model Hebrews - at least, insofar as ritual and observance was concerned. And in this one area, at least, the apple did not, as the saying goes, fall far from the tree.

But we were talking about Lobster.

I learned to eat lobster at my mother’s knee, she having learned the art from her mother. The Momma d’Elisson was feared and loathed in lobster tanks throughout the Northeast, for she could fair demolish a lobster, leaving only dry shards of chitinous shell.

Once upon a time, I was host to a group of sales representatives, visiting from the Great Corporate Salt Mine’s far-flung Asian outposts. They were visiting our New York-area offices, and not a man-jack among them had ever laid eyes on a Maine lobster. We remedied that one memorable night at the Palm in Manhattan, with four-pounders all around. Back then - it was 1980 or ’81 - you could get a four-pounder at the Palm for what today seems like the bargain-basement price of $40.

Those of you who will cavil and say that large lobsters are not as good as those shitty one-pound chicken lobsters they sell at (gag) Red Lobster are way off base. Lobsters are like Dicks: bigger is better, although having small one is better than having nothing.

On my thirtieth birthday, She Who Must Be Obeyed and I celebrated by going out to the Yankee Clipper, a restaurant in Freeport, New York (now defunct) that offered lobsters in sizes ranging from merely large to the truly immense. We split a ten-pounder, which went for the (then) luxuriant tariff of $60. When they brought that monster out, on a trencher the size of a pool table, a hush fell over the dining room as everyone in the place stopped to gape at the behemoth.

I’d like to say that we ate the Whole Fucking Thing, but no. We saved the large claw - fully the size of a dinner plate - and took it back to my parents’s house, there to be made into Lobster Salad the next day.

Was it good? It was exquisite. Nice and tender - not at all tough, as some of the Needle-Dick Small-Lobster crowd would have you believe.

And then there was the summer of 1988, when we vacationed for a week in Cape Cod. One night we went to the fishmonger and purchased a brace of enormous lobsters - a couple of eight-pounders and some four-pounders - the latter for snacks, I suppose. It’s the one time I remember having had so much lobster that I was thoroughly sick of it for months.

Lobster was not always a luxury food. One hundred years ago, it was considered trash, suitable only for fertilizer or the poor man’s table. Last summer, my friend Lisa and her husband G related to me how, years ago in New Brunswick, the wealthy children would bring lunchmeat sandwiches to school; poorer families’s kids were given lobster rolls. And lobsters would be planted in furrows in farmers’ fields, there to enrich the soil. Eat a lobster? How...nekulturny.

Things are different now, of course - and those same salt-of-the-earth lobster fishermen who lived in mean circumstances in years past are now building hilltop manses with that lobster money.

It was while I was in New Brunswick this past summer that I had a most memorable luncheon, hosted by this charming couple:

Winston and Mary.

They had invited me, a complete stranger, to their summer home at the campgrounds in Hampton, New Brunswick, for a fine repast of lobster rolls, seafood chowder, and a most excellent blueberry pie.

The lobster rolls were superb; the homemade seafood chowder, replete with chunks of lobster and scallops, was completely over the top.

As for the pie, I have described the McKay’s Farmstand Wild Blueberry Pie in loving detail elsewhere, but I have not shared Winston’s philosophy of pie-cutting. Being a staunch Baptist, he makes the sign of the Cross - i.e., he cuts a pie into quarters. Why serve a World-Class Pie in dinky portions?

Of course, there’s a certain irony that attaches to eating lobster in Maritime Canada with Winston and Mary, my most esteemed hosts. And that is the fact that their own daughter won’t go near the stuff.

What kind of Canajun doesn’t eat lobstah?

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