If I was to ask what is one of the most expensive entrée on a menu, I’d be willing to bet the majority of us would say lobster and in most restaurants we’d be correct. But what would you say if I told you that back one hundred and fifty years ago that wasn’t the case?
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There were times after summer storms that coastal people would wake up to hundreds of stranded lobsters. The lobsters would wash up on shore and be unable to return to the sea. The promised stench of hundreds of pinching crustaceans dying on the beach motivated the locals to grab their shovels and wade through the writhing lobsters with strong claws in an attempt to scoop them up and throw them back in the sea. When you are picturing this mass of crawling, pinching creatures you need to understand that these are not the two pound lobsters we see in the supermarket and at tanks in restaurants today. These were like the goliath of lobsters. Giants that could reach well over twenty some pounds.
Oh my goodness! Can you imagine such a beast? But back 150 years ago they were as plentiful as the sand crabs on the beach. On an average day, when a north easterly or a strong storm didn’t wash up several wagon full of them, lobsters could be gathered out of small tide pools along the shore.
With the lobster so plentiful, I bet you’re thinking the people must have ate well. Perhaps they did and perhaps they didn’t. It would depend on who you talked to. See it all goes back to that age old thing called supply and demand. They had more lobster than they knew what to do with, so the mammoth sea creatures were considered garbage food much like carps are considered the garbage fish of the lakes. They were used for fertilizer to help enrich and nourish the ground of their gardens. An easy catch, they were also used for bait to catch fish they would serve at the dinner table.
However, they were used for human consumption—as inhumane as is—they were fed to servants, children, slaves, and indentured servants. That was considered cold-hearted by many, making a person eat lobster day after day. So much so that it was actually put into contracts that a servant would not have to eat lobster more than three days a week. A group of indentured servants in a Massachusetts town got so disgusted with their daily diet of lobster that they went to court filing complaints against the masters they’d sworn to serve. They won their case and would no longer have to eat lobster more than three times a week. Oh, that I should have to suffer so. :o)
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But on the good side of it, they were so plentiful that the poor didn’t have to go hungry. If they needed food, all they had to do was wade along the shore or walk in a tide pool and pick up their dinner. Thus, lobster was considered poor man’s food and not desired by anyone. People were actually ashamed to eat lobster. In 1881, Halifax had the privilege of English visitor, John Rowan. He watched in amazement as young boys went ‘lobster spearing’ and collected hundreds with hooks and sticks off the shore. He was noted as saying, “To give some idea of the little value put upon lobsters by the country people, I may mention that on some parts of the coast they boil them for their pigs but are ashamed to be seen eating lobsters themselves. Lobster shells about a house are looked upon as signs of poverty and degradation.”
So where have the lobster gone? The tin can and the railway were the demise of the lobster. In the early 1840’s America started canning the crustaceans (anything under 6 pounds was not considered worth using). They didn’t taste good, blackened and salty, but they were good protein and sent out west to miners. Then as the railways reached to different corners of our country—places that had never seen a live lobster—they were shipped live. People loved this new and unusual delicacy. Restaurants started serving fresh lobster and the demand soared.
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Debbie Lynne Costello is the author of Sword of Forgiveness, Amazon's #1 seller for Historical Christian Romance. She has enjoyed writing stories since she was eight years old. She raised her family and then embarked on her own career of writing the stories that had been begging to be told. She writes in the medieval/renaissance period as well as 19th century. She and her husband have four children and live in upstate South Carolina with their 3 dogs, 4 horses, miniature donkey, and 8 ducks. Life is good!