July 29, 2009

"The enormous, pungent, and extremely well marketed Maine Lobster Festival is held every late July in the state’s midcoast region..."

"The assigned subject of this article is the 56th Annual MLF, July 30 to August 3, 2003, whose official theme was 'Lighthouses, Laughter, and Lobster'":
2003 Festival highlights: concerts by Lee Ann Womack and Orleans, annual Maine Sea Goddess beauty pageant, Saturday’s big parade, Sunday’s William G. Atwood Memorial Crate Race, annual Amateur Cooking Competition, carnival rides and midway attractions and food booths, and the MLF’s Main Eating Tent, where something over 25,000 pounds of fresh-caught Maine lobster is consumed after preparation in the World’s Largest Lobster Cooker near the grounds’ north entrance. Also available are lobster rolls, lobster turnovers, lobster sauté, Down East lobster salad, lobster bisque, lobster ravioli, and deep-fried lobster dumplings. Lobster Thermidor is obtainable at a sit-down restaurant called The Black Pearl on Harbor Park’s northwest wharf. A large all-pine booth sponsored by the Maine Lobster Promotion Council has free pamphlets with recipes, eating tips, and Lobster Fun Facts. The winner of Friday’s Amateur Cooking Competition prepares Saffron Lobster Ramekins, the recipe for which is available for public downloading at www.mainelobsterfestival.com. There are lobster T-shirts and lobster bobblehead dolls and inflatable lobster pool toys and clamp-on lobster hats with big scarlet claws that wobble on springs.
I'm doing a lobster theme today, following the pattern of previous theme days on this blog, which is to work a theme only after I've perceived an accidental theme present in the first 2 or more posts.

Putting "lobster" through a Google news search just now, I see that "Lobster fest starts today in Rockland." An odd coincidence:
Lobster lovers and others come from all over the U.S. and other countries to the volunteer-run festival, which [the prez of the festival] estimated generates as much as $2 million annually for the area economy.

“It’s gained so much national and international recognition,” she said.

She said many of this year’s showcase activities — such as the crowning of the Sea Goddess from a court culled from local girls — are tried-and-true crowd pleasers which have been around for decades. Others, such as Sunday’s “Real Maine Man” pageant, are relatively new.

Last year, organizers had a “Real Maine Man” cooking contest, but they’ve upped the ante this summer. Cash prizes totaling $225 will be awarded to those who can prove their Mainely manliness after competing in categories such as Best Real Maine Man Outfit, Talent, and Feats of Strength and Endurance....

There also will be a parade, an art show, Navy ship tours, and a lobster crate race, among many other activities planned over the five-day festival.

But the star of the show, Kolmosky emphasized, is everyone’s favorite sea creature.

“I think the highlight of the festival is the delectable Maine lobster,” she said.

One must-see is what organizers proudly refer to as the “World’s Greatest Lobster Cooker,” a behemoth that can cook 1,600 pounds of lobsters every 15 minutes at its peak capacity.

“It’s a show in itself,” Kolmosky said.
That's from today's news article. The quote that starts this post is from a much darker account of the festival, David Foster Wallace's 2004 essay "Consider the Lobster." Wallace has a lot to say about the World’s Greatest Lobster Cooker:
So then here is a question that’s all but unavoidable at the World’s Largest Lobster Cooker, and may arise in kitchens across the U.S.: Is it all right to boil a sentient creature alive just for our gustatory pleasure? A related set of concerns: Is the previous question irksomely PC or sentimental? What does “all right” even mean in this context? Is it all just a matter of individual choice?...

[T]he whole animal-cruelty-and-eating issue is not just complex, it’s also uncomfortable. It is, at any rate, uncomfortable for me, and for just about everyone I know who enjoys a variety of foods and yet does not want to see herself as cruel or unfeeling. As far as I can tell, my own main way of dealing with this conflict has been to avoid thinking about the whole unpleasant thing. I should add that it appears to me unlikely that many readers of [G]ourmet wish to think hard about it, either, or to be queried about the morality of their eating habits in the pages of a culinary monthly. Since, however, the assigned subject of this article is what it was like to attend the 2003 MLF, and thus to spend several days in the midst of a great mass of Americans all eating lobster, and thus to be more or less impelled to think hard about lobster and the experience of buying and eating lobster, it turns out that there is no honest way to avoid certain moral questions.

There are several reasons for this. For one thing, it’s not just that lobsters get boiled alive, it’s that you do it yourself—or at least it’s done specifically for you, on-site. As mentioned, the World’s Largest Lobster Cooker, which is highlighted as an attraction in the Festival’s program, is right out there on the MLF’s north grounds for everyone to see. Try to imagine a Nebraska Beef Festival at which part of the festivities is watching trucks pull up and the live cattle get driven down the ramp and slaughtered right there on the World’s Largest Killing Floor or something—there’s no way.
He's just getting rolling at that point... just getting roiling. It's a festival of agonizing over there at the link.


Treacle said...

christmas god almighty that's a long post.

traditionalguy said...

Suppose we just say it is a foetus rather than a lobster and then we can boil that sucker until it screams? Oh yeah, animals are good and human children are bad according to the latest ethical system taught at the Harvard Cult/College that dictates all relevant opinions.

Chase said...

Was at the festival in '03. Good times!

Lobster is so available and so cheap in coastal Maine that you can always tell the tourists - they can't resist eating as much lobster as possible. It's even available at sidewalk taco stands in Downtown Portland.

Tells a lot about the value of commodities, don't it?

traditionalguy said...

Do they have Lobster Fights in tanks like cocks and dogs are fought in rural areas? That could be a Federal crime, if Mike Vick's sideline was one.

Tibore said...

Yeah, I read that Consider the Lobster post in Gourmet back in '04. And in regards to all the hand-wringing the author mentions about plunging live lobsters into boiling water:




Unknown said...

Of course, in less squeamish cultures, there is another way to kill a lobster. You need to do it this way if you want to bbq it, for example, or to prepare Lobster Thermidore.

You take the (very cold) bugger, flip it over and drive a massive kitchen knife through its 'neck' to the backplate, and cut it from there completely in half.

Yu-mmy! (or at least a step towards yummy).

chuck b. said...

Maine lobster? I have this hideous painted Maine lobster claw from my grandparents' house. It used to hang in grandma's kitchen. Now I have it. In a box in another box in a plastic bin in the garage. Its ugliness makes me shudder and it's what I think of whenever anyone says "lobster".


Unknown said...

When I was growing up we never went to the Lobfest even though we lived just down the road in Damariscotta. We were too poor and tired of eating lobster. Having a chicken dinner was a real luxury.

As for cooking, just make sure the water is to a roil and drop it head first. Instant death. Oh and make sure the water is back to a roil when you add the second one. I made that mistake once when I was cooking dinner for a friend I really liked. The first one no problem. The second one kicked and thrashed around for a really long time. Kinda bummed us out.

traditionalguy said...

Chuck B...If I were you, I would stay away from Rhorshach tests.

Fred4Pres said...

I suspect boiling results in instant death to the lobster. it is not like those horror stories of people falling into the hot springs at Yellowstone (they sell a book about it at the Old Faithful gift shop, which is quite awesome, better than ghost stories).

Lamar is correct. Plus lobsters are generally not that big so the heat goes right away to the vital spots. Head first, water roiling. Bring it up again for #2. You can also stab them before you throw them in, but I suspect that hurts even more.

Fred4Pres said...

Hypnotize your lobster.

Methadras said...

food booths, and the MLF’s Main Eating Tent,

I swear to God I thought that said MILF's Main Eating Tent...

Automatic_Wing said...

Fish:Sea Kitten::Lobster:Sea Cockroach

Fred4Pres said...

Dr. Sleep puts the lobster down...

Then again, don't forget the corn.

John Burgess said...

Growing up in New England, even inland New England, lobsters were just a fact of life, primarily a Friday fact of life.

I remember riding my bicycle to the fish shop and picking them up, a dollar a piece, to bring home for dinner.

Dropping them in boiling water was the norm, though the knife-point lobotomy was sometimes required, depending on which recipe was in use that day.

Hazy Dave said...

Living a considerable distance from Maine, we eat a fair amount of that surimi fake lobster/crab meat at our house, and have coined the term "blobster" to refer to it. You're welcome.

(If Treacle thinks that's a long post, he should try reading a David Foster Wallace book.)

Lem said...

I cant put a lobster in hot water.

What did you think we were going to do?.. take them to the movies?

Anny Hall (1977)

Lem said...

How do lobsters procreate?

The Cosmo answer is..

They find a decent restaurant ;)

Jonah H. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jonah H. said...

A few quick points...

1. Is Wallace for real or is he some fictional gestalt of the typical upper-east coast food snob? The term "self-parody" isn't strong enough.

2. Seneca protested the games, Wallace protests the MLF. Does that make our time better, or worse?

3. If men are truly transcendent (by evolution or design, God, whatever) then there really is no reason to fret over eating animals. We care about their sensibilities because we care about our own. We don't want to think of ourselves as cruel on inhumane. Anything we do or don't do to them is really about us. Not eating them because that's what we think of as cruel is as innately speciesist as eating them.

4. If humans are not transcendent (a boy is a dog is a fish is whatever) then why don't we get to eat meat like nearly every other predator? Our slaughterhouses are infinitely nicer than getting eviscerated and disemboweled by claws on the Serengeti.

6. Given 4 or 5...he should just shut up and eat the lobster already.

Richard Fagin said...

75,000 people in Rockland? Yikes! That's ten times the number of people who actually live there according to 2006 state figures.

Good thing the house is 30 miles away in Belfast. Wouldn't want to have to squeeze through that many tourists.

Chip Ahoy said...

How Old Bay managed to corner the market on these lobster-boil things is beyond me. I have a can of that stuff and it's disgusting. The ingredients listed on the side of the can do not appear at all bad, but their particular combination is extremely careless.

Hang on.

There. I just tossed it.

Anything you put together yourself, and i mean anything would be better than Old Bay seasoning. Here's what I would recommend for this sort of thing:

Starting with the pot you intend to finish, sweat a diced white onion or two in a fair amount of butter. Consider adding diced celery and diced carrot as well, but it's not necessary. As it nears completion smash a few garlic cloves and dice them finely too and add it to the pot Throw in a few bay leaves, fresh or dried. That right there alone would be an improvement over Old Bay.

But why hold back? Continue with a small handful of coriander seed along with black pepper seed. Seriously consider a specific type of vegetable pepper either fresh or powdered. I'd go with habanero in moderation, jalapeňo, chipotle in adobo, serrano, Thai, whatever, or a combination of any of those, but be specific about it. Add them independently. Take it easy with the pepper, you don't want to go crazy. Whatever you do, avoid mixed chile powders because then you're getting right back into Old Bay seasoning territory. I've tried dozens of them, packaged taco mixes etc, they're all terrible.

For something unusual I like fennel or ginger in any of its forms. I've even used ginger candy, but fresh is best.

Then add a bottle of white wine, the kind you would actually drink, not the kind marketed for cooking, and then add more butter.

See what's going on here? You contrive a mirepoix of your own design, spice it up with your favorite things, then add wine and butter.

That by itself could be used for oysters, mussels, shrimp, etc., with additional water it could be used to boil lobster, crab, crayfish, crawdads and the like.

Take it from me, you have it within you to out-spice Old Bay or any other prepared mixture by following your own lights.

Anonymous said...

"I swear to God I thought that said MILF's Main Eating Tent.."

The first thing I thought was that this event might want a new acronym. They wouldn't want to be confused with the Moro Island Liberation Front, for cryin' out loud.

John Burgess said...

I'm not sure what a critique of Old Bay is doing in a piece about lobster because the two of them don't belong in the same pot at the same time. Ever. Under pain of death of the putter-together.

Old Bay is a regional (Chesapeake Bay) and traditional blend of spices. The blend is actually intended for a crab boil. Extending it further than that should be undertaken at the consumer's risk. It's not to everyone's taste, even in the region. Many prefer those more along the lines of Wye River.

Using the mirepoix method for lobster is an exercise in futility, however, and the waste of a mirepoix better used for steaming shrimp. Lobster shells are dense enough--even 'soft shell' lobster--that the flavorings will not have enough time to penetrate. At least if you're going for tender lobster, not lobster-flavored leather.

Hazy Dave said...

Trav COTR, Wallace killed himself fairly recently, last September if I remember correctly. I could check, but I'm not going to bother. He was a pretty amazing writer, not a protester as far as I know, and self-parody was certainly in his repertoire.

Besides, I think "Saving the Planet" and "Evolutionary Physiology" are currently the hot arguments in favor of Veganism, as opposed to "Animals Have Souls, Too." I believe "But They're So Cute," is still the primary argument against killing baby seals, however.

traditionalguy said...

The cruelty of eating animals is another absurd notion that no one believes in, but everybody talks a big game about to appear more ethical than they are. That makes it a religion. We should be eternally thankful that God gave us scriptural truth so we need not be easy prey to the latest phony teachers.

Alex said...

The cruelty of eating animals is another absurd notion that no one believes in, but everybody talks a big game about to appear more ethical than they are. That makes it a religion. We should be eternally thankful that God gave us scriptural truth so we need not be easy prey to the latest phony teachers.

The same mighty God that told the Hebrews to smite the Sodomites? This is the moral god that we have to follow - one so petty and jealous?

Fred4Pres said...

Don't forget the corn.

It can be fun.

J. Cricket said...

Your faux accidental theme is a real flop. No insight, few comments. A classic Althouse failure.

Better luck tomorrow, Annie!

Jeremy said...

Off-topic and strictly speaking, I don't think that God commanded the Hebrews to smite the Sodomites so much as He Himself smote them - see Gen 19. Just saying.

-The Other Jeremy

SteveR said...

I've behaved myself for several months but I am in a bad mood today.

Juris Dentist-- you're an idiot.

blake said...

Geez, I can't even look for porn without winding up back at Althouse.

Fred4Pres said...

Lobster tastes best with beer, not wine. Which allows be to disgress a bit...

And three gentlemen are having beers tomorrow:

Political choices of beers?

Obama goes with the safe bet, Bud Light. Who can criticize that as being elitist? It is very American and it is low alcohol to boot.

Skip Gates goes with Red Stripe, a Jamaican brew. But in reality Red Stripe is owned by Diageo PLC (who owns Baileys, J&B, Guiness, Captain Morgan, Tangueray, etc.). A faux “Afro-Caribbean” corporate beer.

And Crowley goes with Blue Moon, which is a faux microbrew* of Molson Coors. I wonder how long till someone says that is racist.

*I would have guessed Crowley a Sam Adams man.

So the the three "Irishmen" drink beers to settle their differences and the woman who started every thing gets left home alone. How stereotypical can you get?

Ignorance is Bliss said...

Is it all right to boil a sentient creature alive...?

Only if drawn butter is involved.

Ignorance is Bliss said...

...or if he's been stepping out on you.

Fred4Pres said...

Excellent find Ignorance is Bliss!

And a good warning too.

mccullough said...

DFW could write. I miss him.

Michael Haz said...

Lobster shmobster.

Bratwurst Days in Sheboygan is a far better event.

Way cooler.

Shawn Levasseur said...

Having just come back from the Festival earlier this evening, I’m surprised to find Althouse blogging about it. (I had the double lobster dinner, as well as other fried goodies from the various stands around the park.

Living in Rockland, and grown up around the festival (my father was on the Festival corporation’s board, and was president of the Festival for a year, back in the late 70’s), so my out of date, 2nd hand authority respond to some of the comments here:


Chase: “Lobster is so available and so cheap in coastal Maine that you can always tell the tourists - they can't resist eating as much lobster as possible. It's even available at sidewalk taco stands in Downtown Portland.”

Even the local McDonald’s get into things, as they carry lobster rolls (which I don’t recommend McD’s has a few tiny bits of Lobster in a roll, a total ripoff)


traditionalguy: “Do they have Lobster Fights in tanks like cocks and dogs are fought in rural areas?”

No, but one year in the 80’s we had lobster races.

People would for a dollar, pick out “their” lobster out of a tank. Six lobsters at a time were put into a ‘track’ where each lobster had it’s own lane in about a foot of water, and ran a 3 yard dash. The winner of each heat was marked and put into a holding tank for another round of eliminations. Semi-finals and finals determined the winner.

The champion lobster was tagged and released back into the ocean. The tag was to alert lobstermen to throw that lobster back into the sea if caught again (the lobster equivalent of a ‘get out of jail free’ card).

The person who picked the lobster got some prize (I forget what it was)


Methadras: “food booths, and the MLF’s Main Eating Tent,

I swear to God I thought that said MILF's Main Eating Tent...”

Well... There were a few MILFs there. ;)


Richard Fagin: “75,000 people in Rockland? Yikes! That's ten times the number of people who actually live there according to 2006 state figures.”

I’m sure that not all 75,000 are all there at once. Though on Saturday morning when the big parade is held, it probably gets close.

It’s the one summer weekend where Rockland tourist traffic is worse than Camden tourist traffic. On Festival Saturday, due to the parade, both Routes 1 and 1A are blocked off and all traffic has to go through the smaller “Old County Road”, which becomes gridlocked until mid afternoon.

“You can’t get there from here,” becomes less of a joke, and more of a reality on Saturday. I’ll be headed out of town then. (I’ve seen plenty of parades, and marched in plenty when I was in the high school band)


Every few years PETA makes some sort of appearance to protest the treatment of lobsters. One year they ran a full page ad in the local paper. Another people came up to hand out literature. And most notoriously was the year when a bikini-clad woman painted red like a cooked lobster joined in the Saturday parade.

They weren’t actually supposed to be in the parade, they just crashed the event and took a spot in the parade. A couple of people complained to the cops (mostly about the woman’s near-abscense of clothing). But the police thought it best just to let them go on without incident.

Shawn Levasseur said...

Oh yeah, one last thing...

Unofficial Maine State Motto: "We boil things alive, and we're darn proud of it!"

Christina Taylor said...

Fred4Prez, you're right, beer is definitely better than wine with lobster. And it's better eaten outdoors, wearing a Tshirt and shorts than in some fancy restaurant. Newbies to the festival might want a lesson in how to eat lobster from a native.

As for the whole is it cruel to boil them alive thing, the university of maine did some research on the most humane way to kill a lobster. I've always been on the rolling boil, drop em in camp.

Unknown said...

John B - It is not a "crab boil". Anyone in the Chesapeake region would run you out of town on a rail for suggesting boiling crabs. Crabs are only steamed, with a liberal amount of Old Bay or other spice of your choice applied during the process and immediately following the steaming.
Some prefer a black pepper based spice, but I'm in the Old Bay camp.

Mutnodjmet said...

I love Maine! I need to go out and eat lobster now! I guess it's OK, I now live in California, so I can stuff my face with its buttery tastiness.

There is nothing as beautiful as the dawn along the Maine coast.

blake said...

Not so good at keeping out spambots after all.