Hungry History: Lobsters

Hungry History: Lobsters

Ian Knauer at history.com dives into lowbrow history of a pricey food as he assembles two versions of a delicious lobster roll.

You wouldn’t suspect, perhaps, that a close relative of grasshoppers and tarantulas could be widely considered an elegant Hungry History: Lobstersindulgence in the United States or any other nation of generally sophisticated palates.

And yet, every time a chef proudly presents a lobster-based creation as a signature dish, that’s exactly what’s going on. Prepared broiled in butter or scampi, Newburg or in bisque, the lobster—a member of the invertebrate phylum Arthropoda just like insects and spiders—has held a place of honor at countless festive feasts and romantic repasts for well over a century. Nonetheless, trappers have a prosaic nickname for lobsters: bugs.

Lobster’s appeal as a special delicacy wasn’t always so, but not because Americans were necessarily repulsed by lobster’s less appetizing cousins. Rather, back in the colonial era, the clawed crustacean was so abundant that it was hardly deemed exceptional.

Hungry History: LobstersA three-term governor of Plymouth Colony who came over on the Mayflower, Edward Winslow, for instance, wrote to an English friend in 1621 that “Our Bay is full of Lobsters all the Summer.” At the end of that decade, Francis Higginson of Salem, Massachusetts, wrote in his book “New England’s Plantation, or a short and true description of the Commodities of that Country” that the “abundance of sea-fish are almost beyond believing … We take an abundance of lobsters, and the least boy in the Plantation may both catch and eat what he will of them. For my own part, I was soon cloyed with them, they were so great, and fat, and luscious.”

Hungry History: Lobsters

Travel ahead one century and several hundred miles northeast to Nova Scotia, and the situation was similar. In his 1876 book “The Emigrant and Sportsman in Canada: Some Experiences of An Old Country Settler,” essayist John J. Rowan recounted that “on still summer nights, lobster spearing parties are the fashion among Halifax people … On one occasion, I saw several acres of potato ground manured Hungry History: Lobsterswith them … Lobster shells about a house are looked upon as signs of poverty and degradation.”

Yet despite Rowan’s observations, times were in fact changing, and the transformation of Homarus americanus (American, or Maine, lobster) from fertilizer to fanciful indulgence had already begun in the United States by the mid-19th century.

The secret ingredient to lobster becoming a luxury was coal. Not on a barbecue, but as the fuel that powered steam-engine locomotives, explained culinary historian and consultant Lou Greenstein of North Reading, Massachusetts. “As the Industrial Revolution got underway and railroads were built, the capacity existed for perishable foods like lobster to be packed in ice and transported from the point of origin to inland places like Chicago,” said Greenstein, author of “A la Carte: A Tour of Dining History.” Hungry History: LobstersThe perceived romance of the travel story involved—not to mention the very real expense—added to the cachet of regionally “exotic” foods.

What’s more, the fact that eating multi-jointed lobster presented intrinsic logistical difficulties made it even more desirable to some. In the Victorian era, “labor was inexpensive,” explained Greenstein. “So a lot of the dishes served from the 1850s on featured lobster that had already been picked, like molded lobster salad. This way, servants did the work, and Victorian ladies didn’t have to go through the ordeal of eating something difficult in public. Even lobster Newburg—it can be served in the shell, but it was already picked.”

Hungry History: LobstersYet if, on the one claw, lobster has maintained its overall reputation as a luxury food, it has, on the other, spawned a very particular kind of informal dining experience in coastal New England: the lobster shack.

Mike Urban, a Connecticut resident and author of the book “Lobster Shacks: A Road Guide to New England’s Best Lobster Joints,” said that the first lobster shack most likely emerged in the early 1900s in Maine. “The first ones were offshoots of a lobsterman’s business,” he hypothesized. “His wife or kids might have begun cooking some of the catch right on the dock, for locals. They started small.”

Hungry History: LobstersOne of the earliest lobster shacks whose history Urban can document is Bayley’s Lobster Pound in Scarborough, Maine. Based in a small commercial shack he bought, Steve Bayley lobstered to supplement the income he earned at a clam-packing plant, where he worked beginning in 1916. Sometimes, after he’d supplied lobsters to all his nearby restaurant and market clients, “he would pack overcatch in suitcases, jump on a Portland-bound train and sell it at a local market there,” said Urban. From there, it became a small logical leap to prepare and sell simple boiled lobsters and lobster rolls (possibly a Bayley invention, too) right at the shack, cutting out middlemen. Today, the third and fourth generations of Bayley family members run the seasonal business. And in the century since Bayley’s began, shacks have come to densely dot the New England coast.

Hungry History: Lobsters

A drive or train ride away, New York’s Delmonico’s—in business, on and off, since 1827, but currently thriving on Beaver Street in a Victorian-era building—is also central to the lobster cuisine story. It was one of the first fine restaurants to serve lobster, according to Greenstein. Even more significant, a new way of preparing lobster—with butter, cream, Madeira and eggs—was introduced to one of the original Delmonico brothers by world-traveling sea captain Ben Wenberg in 1876. Lobster à la Wenberg became a favorite of patrons, but when Wenberg and Delmonico had a falling-out, the new specialty fell off the menu, too. When requests for the dish could no longer be ignored, though, it returned—with the letter-shifted name of Lobster à la Newberg (or Newburg, as it’s now spelled).

If the Puritans could see the esteem in which lobster is held today, they would doubtless be shell-shocked. But with melted butter easing its ascent, Homarus americanus clawed its way to the top, and it looks like it’s here to stay.

Egg and Bacon Muffins / Egg- og Baconmuffins

A fancy breakfast recipe found on gilde.no
Egg and Bacon Muffins / Egg- og Baconmuffins

Bacon and eggs belonging to those delicious weekend breakfasts for many of us. If you want to try a little playful variation, you can prepare them in a muffin mould for an even better presentation on the plate.

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Tarta de Santiago – Galician Almond Cake / Galiciske Mandelkake

A Spanish dessert speciality found on epicurus.com
Galician Almond Cake (Tarta de Santiago)_post

Tarta de Santiago is a wonderful Spanish cake with deep regional roots in the northern region. The flavor is amazing.

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Medieval Monday – Sweet Frumenty / Søt Frumenty

A Twelfth Night side dish recipe found on cookit.e2bn.org
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This is a standard dish appearing in many variations over the centuries. It makes a lovely side dish, especially with strongly flavoured meats. It was a symbolic dish in winter, a sign that spring would come. It later came to be served as a festival dish on Twelfth Night (5th of January).

This is the original recipe:

‘To make frumente. Tak clene whete & braye yt wel in a morter tyl the holes gon of; seethe it til it breste in water. Nym it up & lat it cole. Tak good broth & swete mylk of kyn or of almand & tempere it therwith. Nym yelkes of eyren rawe & saffroun & cast therto; salt it: lat it naught boyle after the etren ben cast therinne. Messe it forth.’

(Curye on Inglysch CI.IV.i.)

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Lazy Ladies Loaf / Late Damers Brød

A new take on baking bread found on “The Farmers Family Baking Book” a free E-book published by the Devondale Dairy
Lazy Ladies Loaf / Late Damers Brød

There is nothing better than a slice of good bread and creamy Devondale butter. The holy grail of any good baker is to make the perfect loaf of bread, but for something so simple that we eat every day it’s amazing that it’s so difficult to get right. This kitchen hack will get you a perfect loaf every time without any of the fuss. This recipe was passed down as the secret of the wife of a very famous chef and breaks every rule of making a good loaf of bread.

If you’re interested in downloading
The Farmers Family Baking Book
click the book title

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Puff Pastry Swirls with Jarlsberg and Rosemary / Smørdeigsnurrer med Jarlsberg og Rosmarin

A puff pastry snack recipe found in “10 inspirerende
oppskrifter med Jarlsberg” (10 inspiring recipes with Jarlsberg)
published by Tine

Snørdeigsnurrer med Jarlsberg og rosmarin_post

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DIY Sunday – Racing Razor Blade Iceboat

Razor Blade Iceboat

Razor blades, box wood, and an old flour sack are the materials used in building this simple, fast and sure sailing iceboat. Balanced so that she will sail herself in all winds not strong enough to tip her, it will be found that this style boat is the answer to those boys who have often tried to make a workable miniature iceboat, only to find that the balance was wrong, that the thing was too heavy, or that it would not steer.

If there is still ice on the lakes and ponds around your neck of the woods you can make this nifty toy for your kids or yourself in a couple of hours. Click the icon below to download the plans published in the 1929 January edition of Popular Mechanix in pdf.

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Cherry Cream Stacks / Kirsebær- og Kremstabler

A dessert recipe from “Crepe Cookery” published in 1976
Cherry Cream Stacks / Kirsebær- og Kremstabler

An extra special dessert! For a short-cut version, use canned cherry pie filling for the topping and packaged vanilla pudding between the layers.

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Apple Pie / Eplepai

A classic pie recipe found in “Cake Baking Made Easy”
published by Airy Fairy Flour in 1927

Apple Pie / Eplepai

This is the third of these lush cookbooks flour, chocolate and yeast producers published in the 1920s I’ve prepared for posting lately. They must have made money back then, because these books were not cheap to make and we should all be thankful to those people who have had the sense to save them for posterity so we can all enjoy them today – Ted

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Soda & Soft Drink Saturday – Nedick’s

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Nedick’s was an American chain of fast-food restaurants that originated in New York City in 1913 or the early 1920s, per differing sources, and expanded in the 1950s to Newark, New Jersey; Albany, New York; Boston, Massachusetts; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Baltimore, Maryland; and Washington, D.C. Originally known for making and selling a signature orange drink, it added coffee and donuts to its simple menu, and later hot dogs with a unique mustard relish in a toasted bun. The name was formed from the last names of Robert T. Neely and Orville A. Dickinson, who founded the chain with the original stand in a hotel storefront of the Bartholdi Hotel at 23rd Street and Broadway. The chain was known for its orange and white decor and its slogan, “Good food is never expensive at Nedick’s”. Another slogan, evidenced by the image at right, was “Always a pleasure”.

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Following intense competition in the 1970s from such national chains as McDonald’s and Dunkin’ Donuts, and much criticism in 1981 for the quality of its concession at the Central Park Zoo, Nedick’s ceased operations.

Revival of the brand name

nedicks_04In 2003, the Riese Organization, which operates a number of restaurant chains such as Dunkin’ Donuts and Pizza Hut, revived the Nedick’s brand, with three restaurants by that name in New York City, at Penn Station; 1286 Broadway between 33rd & 34th Street; and 416 8th Avenue, at West 31st Street. All of these locations have since closed, and Nedick’s is no longer featured on Riese Restaurants webpage.

In popular culture

nedicks_03Nedick’s was a long-time New York landmark; The New York Times in 2003 recalled the chain as “The Starbucks of New York”.

Nedick’s was a sponsor of the New York Knicks basketball team. This gave rise to the catchphrase of the Knicks’ long-time radio announcer, Marty Glickman: “Good like Nedick’s”, intoned after the team scored a basket. Another common phrase was, “Meet me outside Nedick’s”; as a well-known and highly visible location, it was a common place to rendezvous with people.

nedicks_05In the musical On The Town, sailors Gabey, Ozzie, and Chip agree to meet at Nedick’s in Times Square at eleven.

Nedick’s is name-dropped in the liner notes to Leo Kottke’s 6- and 12-String Guitar.

A popular punchline from the heyday of the chain was “I’ll meet you in the Orange Room of the Hotel Nedick’s.”

In his 1971 album, When I Was a Kid, Bill Cosby talked about when he and his Boy Scout troop went on a hike around Fairmount Park in his hometown of Philadelphia. When the police forbade them setting up camp in the park, the

nedicks_01troop went to Nedick’s to eat their lunch (canned beans) before going home.

In the M*A*S*H Season Four episode, “Dear Peggy”, Hawkeye Pierce talks about watching Klinger eat a fresh egg he won in a poker game and facetiously says that for a moment, it evoked the air of “fine dining at Nedick’s in Grand Central Station.”

The Nedick’s neon sign can be seen in several location shots in Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver.

In Audre Lorde’s poem, “Who Said It Was Simple,” the speaker can perceive, just “Sitting at Nedick’s,” the intersections of race, gender and class in the liberation movements of the 1970’s.

Text from Wikipedia

Daffodil Cake / Påskeliljekake

A fancy cake recipe just right for the upcoming Easter
found in “Igleheart Cake Secrets” published in 1928
Daffodil Cake / Påskeliljekake

This is the second of these old Igleheart’s cookbooks from the 1920s I’m posting from and again I’m struck by how little baking recipes and traditions have changed over the years in comparison with other food. We seem to like cakes and cookies to be as they always have been and I find that rather pleasant in our modern world of constant change – Ted

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Butterscotch Cream Dessert Cake / Dessertkake med Karamellkrem

A delicious cake recipe found in “Baker’s Favorite
Chocolate Recipes” published in 1943
Butterscotch Cream Dessert Cake / Dessertkake med Karamellkrem

This book has a lot of great illustration in down toned colours that really caught my attention. I have not tried to brighten up the colours, just given them a little more depth as they probably would have lost some over the last close to 75 years – Ted

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Grilled Flatbread / Grillede Flate Brød

A great Italian inspired flatbread recipe found on food52.comGrilled Flatbread / Grillede Flate Brød

Grilling is a stone age way of baking bread but don’t let that lead you to thing that bread baked this way isn’t just delicious. Particularly when using this Italian inspied recipe complete with olive oil, salt flakes and rosemary.

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Shrimp and Orange en Coquille / Reker og Appelsin en Coquille

A shelfish recipe found in “Famous Florida Chef’s
Favourite Citrus Recipes” published in 1970

Shrimp and Orange en Coquille / Reker og Appelsin en Coquille

En Qoquille; any of various seafood or chicken dishes baked with a sauce and usually served in a scallop shell or a shell-shaped serving dish.

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Easy Thai Chicken Soup with Coconut Milk / Enkel Thai Kyllingsuppe med Kokosmelk

A spicy Thai soup recipe found on godt.no
Easy Thai Chicken Soup with Coconut Milk / Enkel Thai Kyllingsuppe med Kokosmelk

A lovely warming soup with lots of flavor that will make a family favourite at the first go. Make some extra, freeze it and you have a delicious quick dinner for a buzy day.

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