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It’s Lobstah Time!

August 7, 2012

Maine and lobster. The two are practically interchangeable, and people flock to the state every year to don lobster bibs and sample some of the freshest and sweetest lobster anywhere. Well, we love this little crustacean too, so in honor of the 65th anniversary of the Maine Lobster Festival (which just came to a close), we thought we’d do a little rundown of Maine’s favorite sea creature!

A Little History

Once incredibly plentiful, lobsters were used as bait for fishing by the early Native Americans and were even considered “poverty food” in Colonial times –harvested from tidal pools to feed to children and prisoners. Until the early 1800s, all lobstering was done by hand with people gathering them along the shoreline. Lobstermen first appeared in Maine in the 1820s in response to the increased demand for lobsters from the New York and Boston markets. Called “smackmen,” they were named after their boats, well smacks, which were used to transport live lobsters over long distances. By the 1930s, these traveling smackmen were replaced by local, land-based buyers who served as the link between the harvesters and the public.

Trap fishing for lobster began in Maine around 1850, and the first lobster pound appeared on Vinalhaven in 1875. Lobster pounds work in the same manner as the early smack boats where lobsters are kept in tanks with water passing freely through them. Using the pound, dealers can wait for the price of lobster to increase or allow a newly-molted lobster time to harden its shell.

Our lobster, the American lobster, can be found from the Canadian Maritimes down to North Carolina, although it is most abundant in Maine waters. This is the reason that Maine is currently the largest lobster-producing state in the nation.

The Color Question

When most of us think about the color of lobsters, we typically think of them as being red. Live lobsters are usually dark green or greenish-brown but can be found in a range of colors including blue, white, orange, yellow, black, and sometimes even red. There are even “Calico” lobsters that are multicolored, and some that have two distinct colors, separated by a line down their backs. However, whatever color they are when alive, all lobsters turn bright red when cooked. This is caused by a change in the protein molecules in the shell which bend into new shapes when cooked and only reflect the red wavelengths in light.

New shell vs. Hard shell – what’s the difference?

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Lobsters grow by molting, or by shedding their shells each year. Just after they molt, they are soft and fragile until their new shell has hardened, which is why they are known as new shell or soft shell lobsters (sometimes also called “shedders.”) After their new shell hardens, they are known as hard shell lobsters.

Soft shell lobsters are tender, sweet, and delicious, and represent about 90% of the catch during the summer months. They are prized by Maine natives, and are less expensive than hard shell lobsters as well. The difference in price is due to the fact that they contain less meat than a hard shell lobster of the same size, because their body has not yet grown into its new shell so the shell is larger than the lobster’s body.

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The Local Connection

While there are many good places to find lobsters in Midcoast Maine, some of the best places to indulge in the freshest (and tastiest) lobster meat are the small, often family-owned, lobster shacks found on the waters and working wharfs in the Midcoast area. All of these spots have their own unique charm and offer a great lobster experience. All boast beautiful views and the freshest seafood around!

Waterman’s Beach Lobster, South Thomaston
Waterman’s Beach Lobster (343 Waterman’s Beach Road, South Thomaston) is a family-owned seafood stand located just off of Route 73. The menu includes lobster, clams, seafood rolls, homemade ice cream and homemade pies (from an old family recipe). Recognized by the James Beard Foundation as an “American Classic,” Waterman’s offers a great blend of fresh seafood and beautiful views. Just place your order at the window and then sit at one of the picnic tables overlooking the working pier and Mussel Ridge Channel.

Ship to Shore Lobster Company, Owl’s Head
Ship to Shore Lobster Company (7 Wharf Street, Owl’s Head) is a small family-run business located on the waterfront wharf in Owls Head which offers live lobsters for purchase as well as lobsters cooked to order for either eating in or carrying out. If you’re on the go, they’ll even pack live lobsters for travel or ship them within the continental U.S. for next-day delivery. If you’re headed out to the Owl’s Head Lighthouse, this is a great place to stop, grab a little fresh lobster, and enjoy the beautiful views.

Miller’s Lobster Company, Spruce Head
Miller’s Lobster Company (Eagle Quarry Road, Spruce Head) is a family-owned restaurant situated on a working wharf in quiet Wheeler’s Bay, where you can often see the lobster boats unloading their catches. The emphasis at Miller’s is on lobster, although they also serve other shellfish, hot dogs, and homemade pies as well.

McLoon’s Lobster Shack – Spruce Head
The newest lobster shack in the area (opened July 2012; 315 Island Road, Spruce Head), McLoon’s Lobster Shack is located on a working wharf only 15 minutes off of Route 1. Menu items include lobster rolls, crabmeat rolls, hot dogs, grilled cheese, lobster stew, and Maine-made desserts and sodas. Enjoy your food on the outdoor picnic tables or get your meal boxed up to go!

No matter which place you choose or where your Midcoast travels take you, a visit to the wharf is truly a unique experience and should not be missed. Not only can you enjoy quality seafood caught fresh by local area fishermen, but you can even watch as boats return to the harbor with the day’s catch. So get out there, enjoy some “lobstah,” and experience the best of Maine!