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"Our Town" By James W. Tucker
Thursday, July 26, 1956
Always Greater Than Its Cost
How will you have your lobster? Do you like it best hot boiled with melted butter? Or do you prefer it broiled live, baked, thermidor, fried, or in a stew ? Perhaps you had rather have lobster newburg, lobster conquille, lobster Savannah, lobster stew or a simple lobster roll. Many folks prefer their lobster in a salad.
Provided the crustacean was indigenous to the coastal waters of New England -- preferably from off our own coast — was fully alive and kicking with strength and determination just previous to cooking and was not cooked too long, we'll take 'em any way and with hearty thanks along with deep appreciation. For we love lobster, period!
Boiled Chicken Lobster
Probably the tantalizing and delicate flavor of lobster meat is found at its best in a fresh boiled chicken lobster, weighing one to one and a quarter pounds. A lobster of this size is estimated to be four or five years old. And the tail meat will be tough if you boil it longer than from eight to ten minutes.
Although lobsters heavier than three pounds are most certainly edible, we seldom see them for sale in local markets. Three pounders have lived ten or twelve years and changed their shell thirteen times or more. They should be boiled for between fifteen and twenty minutes.
Competent gourmands, fortified and experienced through years of good and discriminatory eating, will insist that where lobsters are concerned, such simple preparation as boiling in sea water, or in properly salted fresh water, for exactly the right number of minutes, will yield the best results. Boiled lobster should be eaten while hot with drawn, unsalted butter. The fancier lobster dishes, which include stuffings, sauces and dressings, are mere gildings of the lily, say culinary experts. Many folks in our town will be inclined to agree.
Two Cents A Pound
The price of lobster is higher this summer than for many years, but undoutedly there are good reasons for the increase. Probably the supply is less and the demand much greater. In any event, today's prices are a far cry from the two or three cents a pound that the proprietor of the original 250-room Ocean House used to pay local lobstermen for their catch back in the 1880's.
By The Bushel
And they couldn't have been very expensive back in the early 1920's. We remember of picking up two bushel of fresh boiled lobsters at Fred Lorenz's store and taking them to the Big Four Camp in West Nottingham. They were consigned to "Doc" Hewitt, in charge of a camping trip enjoyed by a group of beach boys which included our own, Bob and Don Ring, Walter White and several others.
Upon arrival at camp, the large burlap bag which contained the lobsters was emptied on top of a great big table and you should have seen those youngsters tackle the pile. They enjoyed just plain lobster. Come to think of it, we had enjoyed it too, for on the way up to camp we had reached occasionally into the bag, broke off a claw, cracked it under a heel and eaten the juicy, flavorful morsel of pink meat which it contained.
One time at a party in Florida, a thoughtful host served his guests as an hors d'oeuvre with cocktails, a delicacy called stone crab. Contained in deep dishes and surrounded by cracked ice, the stone crab looked something like lobster claws. But there the resemblance ended, for although the crab meat was pink and had a delicate flavor, it was hard and did not contain the juicy, gustatorial goodness that we find in the claw of a New England lobster.
Worth Any Price
Lobster is well worth any price that one has to pay to obtain it. We remember one lobster in particular. It was barely of legal size and the most droopy and bedraggled lobster we ever saw. It had but a few minutes to live and strength enough left only to move in feeble fashion one of its two long feelers. The chipped ice, upon which it was stretched limply, was rapidly becoming a pool in the window of one of Washington's fashionable and popular eating places. The tiny, dying crustacean wore a tab, "Boiled LIVE Lobster, $3.50."
Problem of Survival
There are many reasons why lobster, as an epicurean delight, always has value to match the current retail price. In the first place, for each five hundred lobster eggs that are hatched, perhaps one solitary lobster lives. The other 499 are destroyed by tides and by storms or are eaten by gulls, fish or by their cannibalistic brothers and sisters. In the live of a lobster, survival is a real problem, even at the outset.
Another Losing Battle
Then, when the green and brown crustacean gets big enough to poke around on the rocky ocean bottom and hungry enough to find its way into a trap, the problem of whether or not it will ever reach reproductive age becomes important. Here the lobster is fighting a losing battle with the selfish, thoughtless lobsterman who refuses to throw back "shorts" and to return spawning females to the ocean. This chap, who flouts the law for profit, is too dumb to see that he is cutting his own throat.
We wonder what became of the New Hampshire Legal Lobster Association, a group formed here in our own town and dedicated to the propagation of lobsters and the preservation of the industry through co-operation with enforcement agencies and officers? All of our local lobstermen were enthusiastic members, dedicated to the cause which they themselves are best able to serve. We hope that the Association is still alive and achieving the worthwhile results it obtained at the outset.
Another reason why great value attaches to lobsters, regardless of wholesale and retail prices, is the difficulty and the risk which attaches to their trapping. Sure, it's a picturesque business with a wee bit of glamour about it, but mostly it's a tough, dangerous vocation, engaged in by strong, hardy men whose never relenting adversaries are the sea and the weather.
Lobstermen risk their boats, their traps and their gear -- an investment that runs into many thousands of dollars -- to say nothing of their own lives, in daily encounters with the sea, encounters that bring icy cold, fogs, storm and high dangerous seas and tides. Whatever their catch may bring, they earn, and often many times.
Don't Grumble Over Price
So, whether it be in a market or in an eating place, never grumble when you pay whatever price is asked for that luxurious and rare delicacy, lobster. In the first place, it's only by the grace of God and a lot of good luck that the lobster you purchase ever grew to maturity. And in the second place, you never could obtain the mature lobster if a group of hardy, close-mouthed and brave men -- often called "quaint" -- were not willing daily to gamble their life-savings and their lives against sea and weather, to haul their lobster traps out of the cold ocean for your special benefit.
Compared With Sun
Lobsters have always been highly prized and sought after as an incomparable epicurean treat. Back in 1638, the year our town was first settled, Samuel Butler wrote in Canto II of his Hudibras:
"The sun had long since in the lap
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O. Thetis taken out his nap,
And, like a lobster boil'd the morn
From black to red began to turn."