Lobster history you may not know

Posted July 31, 2009, at 11:56 p.m.

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.

Send complaints and compliments to Emmet Meara at emmetmeara@msn.com.

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