When I asked a few people long ago what they remember most about my grandmother’s meals, they all replied in the same way. They said they couldn’t always recall what she made but they did recall how delicious it was and how comfortable and loved they felt while they were eating it. Of course, then, depending on who replied, they also remembered her chocolate chip cookies, her summer squash and zucchini, and her potatoes.
The other common memory? Lobstah Dinnahs.
Forever, when the whole family would gather at my grandmother’s house every summer, we’d have a lobster dinner. Grandpa would pick up lobsters from the harbor and Grandma would set up the pot to boil them.
Grandma would also make corn on the cob, potatoes and salad. People would generally not have room to eat these sides, but she made them every time.
A side story for you, my grandfather used to buy the lobster bodies only because they were cheap and he’d bring them home for dinner. This means that anyone who grew up with my grandparents is able to find all the meat in the lobster body- no easy feat.
My father was visiting this week so it meant that we had the perfect excuse for a big lobster dinner. Everyone was invited and almost everyone came. We ended up with 18 people but lobster is incredibly cheap right now so that was just fine with us. We gathered around our big table and cracked our way to full bellies.
Another side story for you, when my cousins and I were younger, we had one of these dinners. My cousin, M., was somewhat inexperienced with lobster so we were coaching her through the process. As we did, there was much giggling and laughing. At one point, she cracked a claw and parts of it went flying, just like in Pretty Woman, landing in the living room. There was much mirth and we’ve never let her forget it.
You know it’s been a good lobster dinner when you’re left with this: dirty tablecloth, used butter dishes, empty wine and beer bottles and a bowl full of shells.
A bit of lobster info for those not from this area: there’s hard-shell and soft-shell lobster. Soft-shell is lobster that has grown and shed the old shell and is just getting comfy in the new one. The downside of this is that there’s less meat for the weight. Hard-shell lobster is lobster that has gotten into its shell and has more meat for the weight. It’s also more expensive. Since there was an early summer this year (so I’ve been told), there’s an abundance of soft-shell lobster around here. The nice fishmonger that sold me 20 of them packed them nicely in boxes with damp clothes and ice.
So, we boiled the water. Lots and lots of water. Now, my grandfather used to tell me that you can hear the lobster scream when you put them in the pot (untrue). My father tells me that lobsters can’t feel pain (untrue). My cousin-in-law and my husband tell me that it doesn’t matter because we are higher up on the food chain (true) and they taste good (also true). Nonetheless, I can’t put them in the water. So I called on the aforementioned men to do it for me.
Into the boiling water the creatures went. Once the water comes back to a boil (putting them in lowers the heat), cook for 7-10 minutes depending on size. (Useful cooking time chart here). You can also steam them but that’s not how my grandmother did it, so I don’t either.
It’s impossible to have lobster without butter.
I melted about a pound and a half of butter. It’s a lot. But so worth it.
I also made the requisite sides: corn and grandma’s potatoes.
I even made mashed potatoes because it’s not a real dinner at my table without them.
Once the lobster was done, the butter was melted and the sides were ready, we put it all out on the table and served, buffet-style.
We all got busy eating. The table was quiet for a few minutes, just the sounds of cracking, empty shells hitting the sides of the bowl and chomping. Then, slowly, there was chatting among the adults, the sounds of children babbling and laughter. Lots and lots of laughter. People lingered at the table long after the food was gone. Some of us took the kids swimming in the backyard. Others of us arrived fashionably late, ensuring that the dinner went on for several hours. In the end, all the lobsters were eaten, all the butter was used up and only a few pieces of corn and potatoes were leftover. People began to arrive around 4, we sat down at 6 and the last person left at midnight.
It was just as I’d always remembered it. And for that, I am so very grateful.