There was a time when lobsters piled up along the coastline more than a foot tall. Of course, that was also the time there just weren’t too many people living anywhere on Long Island. Historians point out the native inhabitants used lobsters to fertilize their lands, more so than to eat.
Research about the first 1620’s Thanksgiving dinner reveals the folks ate lobsters, fish and game and not turkey. William Bradford apologized to the Indians about serving lobster. In those days four- or five-pound Lobsters were considered too small. Note it wasn’t until the 1880’s the chefs cooked the lobsters live! Before that that killed them then cooked them.
In the beginning folks walked along the shore and gathered lobsters. Actually, they were considered “poor man’s food.” In olden times in England lobsters were served to prisoners and servants. They were often referred to as the “cockroach of the ocean.” Seeing lobster shells around a home was a blatant sign of poverty.
The word Lobsters comes from an English word, “loppe,” which was a way of saying spider. Eventually lobsters were served in salads, chopped up. It wasn’t until they were boiled and served with drawn butter in the 1880’s that folks began to favor them outright.
There are a few ways to tell a male lobster from a female. The simplest way is simply to look at the lobster and notice if the claws are roughly about the same size or if one claw is much larger than the other. The lobsters with the one much larger claw are male, the two claws about the same are females.
During the roaring twenties, lobster easting became the rage of the newly rich. Fancy silver or even gold trays and tools were invented to serve and eat lobsters. Lobsters were the rage of the “nouveau riche” with great demand as a wedding dinner staple. In fact, Lobster Rockefeller was popular consisting of lobster shells being stuffed with cooked lobster in a fancy creamy white wine mixture, then smothered with Parmesan cheese and broiled until the cheese was of course, “golden.”
The lobster roll was invented in the 1920’s with credit going to a place called Perry’s in Milford, Ct. The legend is that Harry Perry created the “traveling sandwich” for his friend who was a traveling liquor salesman.
The popularity of all things fancy lobsters peaked just before the stock market crash of 1929. Suddenly the formerly rich but suddenly poor folks were no longer eating lobsters in fancy restaurants.
Amazingly during the depression that was not quite the case on the east end. Out on the east end of Long Island fathers would get down to the seashore and gather up lobsters for their family’s dinner. Believe it or not, most east enders did not starve during the Great Depression. There was plenty of game, fowl and farms goods to trade for.
Another fact is that unlike most foods lobsters were not rationed in the United States during World War II. However, it was after the war, in the 1950’s when lobster once again became popular. It may have been the lobster salad becoming more of a lobster roll thus joining the baked, broiled or steamed lobster on the menus.
In the 1950’s lobster roll shacks sprung up all over the east coast especially in sea coast towns. One source credit’s Red Eats on US 1 in Wiscasset Maine for increasing the awareness of the lobster rolls in the late 1960’s.
Other famous lobster roll chefs were Jasper White and his famous Boston, Massachusetts waterfront restaurant “Summer Shack.”
Lunch/The Lobster Roll opened in Amagansett on the east end in 1965. The Palm a New York City upscale lobster eatery opened a branch restaurant in East Hampton in 1975-1976 at The Hunting Inn.
Also, for the common man Bill Darden founded Red Lobster in Lakeland Florida in 1970.Then he franchised it. Today there are 749 of them. Coming next week, in All About Lobsters, Part Two, how east end lobsters are caught and marketed.