CONSIDER THE LOBSTER
The enormous, pungent, and extremely well-marketed Maine
Lobster Festival is held every late July in the state’s midcoast region, meaning the western side of Penobscot Bay, the nerve stem of Maine’s lobster industry. What’s called the midcoast runs from Owl’s Head and Thomaston in the south to Belfast in the north. (Actually, it might extend all the way up to Bucksport, but we were never able to get farther north than Belfast on Route 1, whose summer traffic is, as you can imagine, unimaginable.) The region’s two main communities are Camden, with its very old money and yachty harbor and
five-star restaurants and phenomenal B&Bs, and Rockland, a serious old fishing town that hosts the festival every summer in historic Harbor Park, right along the water.1
Tourism and lobster are the midcoast region’s two main industries, and they’re both warm-weather enterprises, and the Maine
Lobster Festival represents less an intersection of the industries than a deliberate collision, joyful and lucrative and loud. The 1 There’s a comprehensive native apothegm: “Camden by the sea, Rockland by the smell.” DAV I D F O S T E R WALLACE
assigned subject of this Gourmet article is the 56th Annual MLF, 30 July–3 August 2003, whose official theme this year was “Lighthouses, Laughter, and Lobster.” Total paid attendance was over
100,000, due partly to a national CNN spot in June during which a senior editor of Food &Wine magazine hailed the MLF as one of the best food-themed galas in the world. 2003 festival highlights: concerts by Lee Ann Womack and Orleans, annual Maine Sea Goddess
beauty pageant, Saturday’s big parade, Sunday’s William G. Atwood Memorial Crate Race, annual Amateur Cooking Competition, carnival rides and midway attractions and food booths, and the MLF’s Main Eating Tent, where something over 25,000 pounds of freshcaught Maine lobster is consumed after preparation in the World’s Largest Lobster Cooker near the grounds’ north entrance. Also available are lobster rolls, lobster turnovers, lobster sauté, Down East lobster salad, lobster bisque, lobster ravioli, and deep-fried lobster dumplings. Lobster thermidor is obtainable at a sit-down restaurant called the Black Pearl on Harbor Park’s northwest wharf. A large all-pine booth sponsored by the Maine Lobster Promotion Council has free pamphlets with recipes, eating tips, and Lobster Fun Facts. The winner of Friday’s Amateur Cooking Competition prepares Saffron Lobster Ramekins, the recipe for which is now available for public downloading at www.mainelobsterfestival.com. There are lobster T-shirts and lobster bobblehead dolls and inflatable lobster pool toys and clamp-on lobster hats with big scarlet claws that wobble on springs. Your assigned correspondent saw it all, accompanied by one girlfriend and both his own parents — one of which parents was actually born and raised in Maine, albeit in the extreme northern inland part, which is potato country and a world away from the touristic midcoast.2
For practical purposes, everyone knows what a lobster is. As usual, though, there’s much more to know than most of us care about — 2 N.B. All personally connected parties have made it clear from the start that they do not want to be talked about in this article.
C O N S I D E R T H E L O B S T E R
it’s all a matter of what your interests are. Taxonomically speaking, a lobster is a marine crustacean of the family Homaridae, characterized by five pairs of jointed legs, the first pair terminating in large pincerish claws used for subduing prey. Like many other species of benthic carnivore, lobsters are both hunters and scavengers. They have stalked eyes, gills on their legs, and antennae.
There are a dozen or so different kinds worldwide, of which the relevant species here is the Maine lobster, Homarus americanus. The
name “lobster” comes from the Old English loppestre, which is thought to be a corrupt form of the Latin word for locust...
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