Seafood: Maine coast, 2012; Queensborough Manse, 1960s

The freshest possible Maine lobster, caught today and on one’s plate this very evening. Delectable … and far from the seafood offerings in Queensborough, Ont., when I was growing up there. Which were, by and large, fish sticks.

Tonight, our final night in lovely Stonington, Maine, was lobster night. When you are staying in a place that is practically – or, come to think of it, truly – the lobster-fishing capital of North America, it kind of behooves you to have lobster. And the lobster here is, as you might imagine, second to none. You buy it from someone who caught it, down at the Stonington Lobster Co-op or the Jones Lobster Co., and perhaps it will be fished out (so to speak) for you from a seawater cage below the dock that is right on the ocean. Better and fresher lobster is impossible to get, and it is delicious.

If you like lobster.

I personally am a bit ambivalent about lobster, recognizing its deliciousness and its too-rich over-the-topness in about equal measure. Not to mention what a pain in the butt it is to cook and crack open and eat. Is it worth it? To me, really not so much, though I do appreciate the general idea. For lots of other people I know, lobster – especially fresh Maine lobster – is an extraordinary treat, and I totally understand and appreciate that. But I would not suffer one tiny bit if I were never to eat lobster again in my life. Raymond is, I think, somewhere in between my point of view and that of the “must-have-lobster-while-in-Maine” school. And I suspect he is getting ever more skittish about throwing live creatures to their deaths in boiling water. He might not want to admit it, but I think my vegetarian-leaning ways are gaining a bit of a hold on him. And if you think that’s just foolishness, let me show you a brief video of our dinner tonight when it was still alive and wishing it could stay that way:

And here, because I cannot resist, is the classic scene from Annie Hall where Woody Allen and Diane Keaton are wrangling lobsters. You have to love the part where he suggests that they lure the one who’s run behind the fridge with a bowl of melted butter:

Anyway, all this to say that this is a long way from seafood that was served at the United Church Manse in Queensborough, Ont., when I was growing up there back in the 1960s and ’70s. Fresh live lobster? If we knew it even existed, it was at the very periphery of our knowledge. Were we interested in it? No. Seafood came in these forms:

  • Tuna casserole
  • An image from my childhood: the Fraser Vale elf, who appeared on a lot of frozen things in the Manse’s freezer.

    Salmon casserole (a bit of an aberration, I admit, but my mother must have found a recipe for it in one of the local church cookbooks that she used. She never used any truly useful cookbook like The Joy of Cooking, but that’s a story for another day. Sorry, Mum!)

  • Frozen Fraser Vale fish and chips. (Frozen-and-reheated-in-the-oven fish: not so bad. Frozen-and-reheated-in-the-oven chips? Gruesome.)
  • Fish sticks!

Fish sticks, cookie sheet, aluminum foil. What else do you need for a great dinner, aside from potatoes, another vegetable or two, and ReaLemon juice?

Now we’re talking. Fish sticks were then, and are now, cheap and actually quite tasty. And in the modern era they’ve wrestled the trans fats out of them, so they’re not actually deadly. Admittedly, frozen fish sticks are a long, long way from fresh Maine lobster (or clams, or crab), but they are what we had and what we could afford back in the day in Queensborough, and I won’t have anyone slighting them. I continue to harbour a (now-not-so) secret affection for good old fish sticks.

Though not for ReaLemon, that nasty metallic-tasting substance that came from lemon-shaped containers (or, if you needed a lot, a bottle). And that we always had at the Manse, for fish sticks or whatever. In later life I have discovered real true lemons, and they are very possibly the one thing I could not do without in my kitchen. (“What?” Lemons?!” my mother said when I told her this.) I would even put them above garlic. And I will tell you this: real fresh lemons make frozen fish sticks from the Manse freezer taste just that much better.

And I am happy to report that, even as I type this, there is a box of frozen fish sticks in the freezer at the Manse, just waiting for our return. And no, they have not been there since 1965.

8 thoughts on “Seafood: Maine coast, 2012; Queensborough Manse, 1960s

  1. A pain in the butt to cook and crack open etc. Me thinks you have the wrong end of the lobster claw. The pain in the butt and all other body parts is for the poor creature about to be boiled while still alive and perhaps thinking some kind soul is about to give him/her a full body massage

    • I know, Gordon, I know – believe me, it gives me no joy whatever to be connected to how those poor creatures meet their death. Yet another reason why my ambivalence toward lobster has been mounting. There is a great deal to be said for meals in which no pain or torture is involved for whatever is being eaten.

  2. Salmon patties were a mainstay at our house…tinned salmon was a rare treat from Stafford’s Groceteria. Exotic, not grown on the farm.

  3. One summer when my husband and I were in Cape Cod on vacation (another high spot on anyone’s seafood menu list, I’d say) the proprietors of the B&B where we stayed showed us a trick. If you stand the lobster on its head (they actually have a sort of natural exoskeletal tripod on their heads) and stroke its back a few times (not the tail, but the thorax, downward towards the head) it seems to go to sleep. This was in the context of a dinner they gave for their clients each week, and when they then tossed the beasties into the pot, I did not hear – nor have I ever heard – the high squealing sound I’ve read about, which is said by some to be air escaping from inside the shell (rather than a lobsteresque scream), nor did they thrash about. For what it’s worth…

    • That is an interesting one, Sandra, and I’d not heard it before. I think I will get Raymond to try it (I can’t quite see myself stroking the lobsters) the next time we’re dining on them. (Which, by the way, probably won’t be for quite a while.) Thank you!

  4. Tartar sauce…you forgot to mention tartar sauce. That’s what we used on our fish sticks. And though I haven’t had them in years, and years, and years…I actually think I could enjoy them again. But only with the tartar sauce.

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