Lobster for Thanksgiving
By Troy Bishopp, the Grass Whisperer
Our family, like most, eats the staples of a Thanksgiving dinner: Turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, butternut squash and the jiggly kind of cranberries. We also have our own traditional individual favs that round out the feast like green bean casserole, cabbage salad, green Jello salad, grape salad and the proverbial sour pickle. But this year a lobster may be in the offering too. Lobster? Absolutely!
This succulent, crackin’ menu selection pays homage to the Cundy Harbor, Maine lobstermen and women whom my wife and I met during a week’s vacation this past July. The historic, quaint, blue-collar fishing village has the designation of being Maine’s oldest commercial lobster wharf since 1841. Lucky for us it was a 10 minute walk from cottage to catch and a chance to learn how folks make a modest living from the sea.
According to the Harpswell Historical Society (circa 1959), “The people of Cundy’s are happy. They are also genuine plain, ordinary intelligent people. There is a quiet take-us-or-leave us attitude, but it is gentle and based on kindness, not flaunted in your face. There seems to be a reason for everything in Cundy’s, a lack of aimless- drifting, yet the pace is slow and comfortable.”
Because time away from the farm should be slower and relaxing, I got a chance to peruse the book selection at the camp and found myself immersed in The Lobster Chronicles written by local lobsterwoman, Linda Greenlaw. Couple this with hearing boats start before dawn; watching the mechanics of lobstering from a kayak; vowing to enjoy the butter-soaked crustacean everyday and we were completely “hooked”.
The farm-boy in me found Watson’s General Store and buying station to be a treasure trove of eclectic marine supplies, old photographs, and knowledge from the multi-generational Watson Family dating back to 1850. I was home, as the real stories of the sea could be shared around an old pot stove between land and sea farmers.
A rugged seafaring man named Bill ran the dock along with a mate who helped lobsterman fill their skiffs with fuel, sold them bait and supplies and weighed and tagged their catches for wholesale. With my rural charm, I asked if there was any money in it. The response was quite similar to that of a dairy farmer. Bill responded by saying, “Between the waterfront taxes, housing encroachment, fuel cost, price of pogies (55 gallon drum of salted baitfish @ $120), new ropes, lobster traps and boat maintenance, it’s hard to make ends meet. Most have other jobs on the side after they get done lobstering for the day.” I could relate.
As I finished my questioning, a young lady in kakis armed with a gun and badge strolled over the seasoned wood to look things over. That’s right, I forgot we are all regulated and inspected by some outside agency. Lobstering, crabbing and fishing are no different. The Maine Marine Patrol officer, Rebecca Kavanaugh, was gracious in sharing her responsibilities from making sure the lobsters were of legal size, boats contained all the right permits and safety equipment and that the laws and regulations of recreational boaters and fisheries were enforced.
Armed with this cornucopia of knowledge and new-found appreciation for this blue collar life, my wife and I were working up a pretty good appetite. With a wry, buttery smile, my wife picked out a couple of 1 ½ pounders fresh from the morning catch. The price: $4.50/lb. This insanely low price befuddled me, so I opened up my big trap to Mrs. Watson. “Who the heck sets the price? This doesn’t seem at all fair for all your efforts”, I ranted. She indicated the price was set by some big cojones over in New Hampshire somewhere. I told her I wanted to pay more but she quickly declined and pointed to a local Christmas fund jar where I could make a donation instead.
I hope the reader won’t find me in contempt for this action. After all, the dairy industry is woefully in the same place (but without a similar jar). In watching the lobster boats place their unique buoys and traps below the surface for the wily crustacean while being at the mercy of the weather, the market and permits, I felt humbled by the sheer work and perseverance of these men, women and families by the sea.
To show reverence for the shoreline culture of Maine, my jubilant wife nestled the large arthropods on a bed of kelp and steamed them in fresh sea water. The result: A lobster bake that rivaled any 5 star restaurant right from our modest camp overlooking the bustling fishery. In the next 6 days, we would honor all the seafood groups and the waterman that caught them.
As Thanksgiving approaches, the memory of Maine is etched in my photos of colorful buoys, magnificent sunrises and sunsets, playful seals, working skiffs and kayak adventures. What better way to support a seafaring family during the holidays then serving a diversity of foods from land and sea.
Please pass the turkey and lobster roll!!!!!
Published in Country Folks, a family paper for Lee Publications