Last night after an eco- boat ride around Barnstable harbor, Sandy Neck and the marshes, we decided on dinner at Osterville Fish Too. It’s a small dockside fish market, with take out and picnic tables. Diane and I discovered it on the way home after several days on Nantucket (a post Cape trip). At the time I had swordfish and commented how much better it was than swordfish I had in a fancy, expensive Nantucket restaurant.
But last night, I went for the boiled lobster with fries and slaw. I sign priced 1 1/4 lb. at $13.00 /lb. My platter was $22. Although I struggled a bit with cracking and spilled the melted butter in the dish, the lobster was fantastic. I had lobster rolls twice on this trip, at the Guilford Lobster Pound in CN and another at Young’s, Rock Harbor, outside Orleans. Guilford uses drawn butter; Young’s mayonnaise. I like both but favor butter. Most years we have a lobster feast at the house but wasn’t sure it would happen with so few days left. If it does, I won’t complain.
I had my first lobster on a trip to Maine in the early 1970s. I don’t recall where we stayed or for how long, but I remember stopping at a roadside stand. Lobster, corn on the cob and a baked potatoe. I was hooked, or maybe trapped is the better term. Another memorable lobster experience was at a private party in Point Pleasant, PA. The lobster was flown in from ME, one of the hosts, a lawyer was a pilot. I think I had three lobsters that night.
But probably the best lobster I’ve had was two years ago on Mantinicus Island off Rockland, ME. Mantinicus is a lobsterman/family Island. We were visiting friends, David and Judy Sears. They had ordered lobsters from a lobsterman friend who delivered them to the kitchen door when his boat came in. Can’t get them fresher. And as much as you wanted. Dave has been painting on the island, the map (left) and stones are examples of his work.
We ocassionally buy lobster in Yardley. Have even tried the small frozen ones, forget where they are from. But they never come up to the tenderness and taste of Maine lobsters boiled and eaten in New England.
I just finished reading “The Last Lobster: boom or bust for Maine’s greatest fishery” (2018) by Christopher White. Read a review and ordered it to read while on the Cape. Several years ago, I read “Skipjack: the story of America’s last oystermen” (2011) also by White. Soon afterwards we traveled to Deal Island in MD to see some of the last operating Skipjacks. We found them including one being restored, it may have been the Lady Katie or Kathryn. Need to check my journal or photographs. There is The Last Skipjack Project which promotes restoration and preservation of the boats.
White who is from the Chesapeake turned his eye to lobsters, Maine lobsters to be specific. His opening chapters are an interesting tour of the culture of the Maine coast. The lobster fishery has been changing. Many of the classic, traditional, quaint, picturesque lobster villages have been gentrified. Property prices rise; lobstermen families are pushed back from the waterfront. Check where lobster traps are stacked. Fancy restaurants and shops mushroom in the downtown. Tourists fill the streets. The traditional character becomes an attraction, a postcard image.
There are other forces of change. Warmer waters have pushed the lobster north. Decades ago there were lobster in Long Island Sound. They are gone, north; the fishery in CN and NY collapsed. Harvest is limited in Cape Cod waters. White explains how the center of the lobster industry has crept north. For his research, he wants to settle in a “traditional” town with an active fishery. He tours the coast. Some towns are familiar to me, in the south, Boothbay Harbor, Port Clyde, and Searsport. Others furthur north, Beal and Cutler are places I’ve never visited. Hopefully in October we will visit the Sears (they have a winter home in Cushing) and we’ll do a lobster village tour.
White decides to settle into Stonington on Deer Island, south of Acadia and Bar Harbor, off the Blue Hill peninsula, east of Penobscot Bay in what’s known as the Down East area. Furthur out are the Isle Au Haut and Vinalhaven Islands. Mantinicus Island where the Sears summer is even farther southeast. All of this area is prime, is the current center of the lobster fishery. At least it was, annually global warming pushes lobster furthur north. Eventually White predicts American lobster men may be in deadly competition with Canadians.
Diane and I first visited this area with John and Barbara Paglione in the early 1970s. I had read “The Maple Syrup Book” and “Living the Good Life” by Helen and Scott Nearing. Scott, an economist was fired from University of Pennsylvania for communist leanings. He and Helen began homesteading in Vermont in the 1930s. When the ski industry transformed VT mountains, they moved to the Blue Hill village of Harborside.
Scott was in his 90s when we visited, building a new stone house. We spent an afternoon touring the property, talking, helping to stack firewood and gather seaweed for fertilizer. The Nearings had become gurus of the back to the earth movement and their homestead was a Mecca. About ten years ago we were back on the Blue Hill pensiula, we drove to the Nearings, now The Good Life Center, but staff were all at the local festival, where our son-in-laws band, Cabin Dogs was playing. A house on the property is rented; would be a historic rental for us. Did we eat lobster or either or both trips. Maybe. (More about traveling in ME, checkout my blog, Maine on my Mind.)
White and his companion settle into the Stonington community. They meet lobstermen and their families. Go out on boats. Haul traps and document their experience. They eat lobster and try to learn about the boom several years ago. The catch and price rose. Will it last or will the bubble bust. I found it interesting that so many lobstersvwere shipped to Asia, especially China. Trumps recent tariff policies may have dented that market.
I won’t try to repeat the arguments, concerns, and theories about the boom and bust. Time will tell. It seems lobster catches have gone down in the past few years. White’s “The Last Lobster” is an interesting read. He covers the life of the lobster, the ins and outs of the fishery, including family holdings, competition, marketing, distribution, the boom smiles and bust scowles. His reporter/journalist style leads him to meet people. He frequently becomes a friend of the family. And it seems, so do we. White (and his readers) experience everyday life; the community rituals and festivals. I’ve read other books about lobster and Maine but I recommend White. Not only do I want to eat lobster, I want to explore the culture. I’m hoping it’s not the last lobster. Most lobstermen are confident, “the lobstah will come.”
Some photographs mine; some from the Internet.