Learning about Lobster from Wally and Bonnie Allen
Tickle-tickle-tickle! Woot! What fun! Who knew that a lobster has a “funny bone”? Jon Crofts from Codfather’s Seafood Market in Kelowna pointed this out to me as I held this large delectable morsel in my hands. Angus Bonnyman from Bonnyman’s Wild Blueberries arranged a pre-conference day tour for the early arrivals to the Slow Food in Canada Conference in Tatamagouche and the Wallace Wharf was our first stop after Lunch at the Fraser Galleries. I could hardly contain myself.
Breakfast at The Trainstation Inn, followed by a tour of The Lismore Sheep Farm and Wool Shop, a visit at Waldegrave Farm and the lunch was already a full day! But to actually meet a lobster fisherman and his fishing partner wife on the first day of lobster fishing, May 1. 2014, for this inland lobster fishing area, was pretty darn special for me.
Wally built this boat from a kit. He and Bonnie hauled in about 90 pounds of lobster on their first day and said, “That wasn’t so good.” Five to six hundred pounds a day would be considered a good haul, I later learned. The lobster were selling that day at 6 a pound, but the next day and the few following, they went down to five and five fifty a pound. Supply and demand. Those prices will keep the family a float for the season, but they have to be employed in other kinds of fishing and in other trades during the Winter season to survive. Bonnie and Wally are going to open a little lobster boil and lunch shop next to the Wallace Wharf, but when I asked Angus for the name, information, or the link before posting this article, he was in Wallace, and it wasn’t up and running yet. but now – a couple of weeks after I published this post, they have a facebook page up!
The other two boats in front, are also lobster fishing boats. The cages go down with the bait and a marker in an afore-agreed upon location with the other lobster fishermen a day or two before they are hauled up.
They live at the bottom in very cold water and they do molt, so depending upon when they molt and when you haul them up, your lobster will be somewhat soft shelled, or harder shelled. They had already been in and unloaded most of their load – all but the last basket, saved for the “show and tell” with our little group.
They kept them over the side of the boat in the icy cold Atlantic salt water, and with baited breath I waited to see this fresh haul!
Wally pulled out a big fella – they were anywhere from a pound to 2 pounds or so, this round – with most being about 1.5 pounds.
Ghislaine Trudel reached out to receive the critter. I was just stunned, frankly.
Certainly, I have purchased and cooked living lobsters, but I am always so critical or concerned about how long they have been “kept alive” from the time they were actually in the ocean. And I have just seen them quite dark in colour. There were a variety of colours in this catch from dark to orange in colour and this big fella was fairly lively!
Michele Mesmain from Slow Fish International and Ghislain Trudel from Slow Food are clearly enjoying the moment, and most likely, like me, thinking of the texture and taste of this succulent salty fresh sweet shellfish.
Tickling just at the top of the head, and a little back of it, had the lobstery completely mesmerized, claws and limbs hung in a drowsy pleasured position. Who knew? Still, it did not make me feel guilty about coveting the entire basked in the boat and wanting to sit, bibbed and ready, at a table piled high with freshly boiled lobster and melted butter.
Above, Jon Crofts with Michele Mesmaine and Bobby Gregoire from Slow Food Montreal. Below, Michele and Jon. Experiencing anything for the first time is unforgettable, as was this learning and lesson.
Jon identified this lobster as a male as the swimmeretes are hard and boney. The female swimmerets are soft and feathery. Jon is touching the male’s above so you know where to find them on the lobster.
Janet’s turn! She is as excited as the rest of us – even suave and cool Sinclair wants in on the action!
Bonnie also explained how to tell the difference between the genders. The male tail is smaller and he is usually darker and less flashy. The female tale has a wider expanse and she is often bigger and a bit brighter, though they say there is not more meat in the female tale.
There apparently isn’t a difference in the texture or taste of the flesh of the lobster genders, either. Of course, I thought the female would, naturally, be sweeter. Bonnie demonstrated how to size the lobsters using the lobster measuring gauge. Lobsters must be measured with a special gauge to make sure that they are “keepers.” The carapace length is measured from the rear of the eye socket to the rear of the carapace on a line parallel to the center line of the bodyshell . All lobsters measuring less than the minimum carapace length for that wharf or region, must be immediately returned to the waters from which taken. This is also the case with any lobsters laden with roe.
One pounders are canners. Less than a pound or if the length of the body is less than the measure on the gauge indicator, go back into the ocean. 1.5 pounds is a good size for a small individual meal; 2 to 3 pounders are large, and considered good to generous individual portions. All of the locals buy their fresh lobster right from the fishermen at the wharf. They usually each have their “own fisherman”, just as we may have our “own beef or chicken farmer” on the prairies. They know what time of day the lobster will be coming in and when they can expect to get a good feed of lobster from their fisherman if they want one.
We could barely contain ourselves, even though Angus had planned a day full of tasty local treats and food, this was a chance to have lobster straight from the sea! It didn’t take our little group seconds to decide to buy some and with Chef Michael Howell at the helm of our little group, we knew the lobster would be in the best of hands. “Ten, 1 1/2 pounders, please.” There were nine of us. Our ten lobsters are all packed up and ready to go, below: 78 dollars for 10 fresh from the sea lobsters. Watch me do my happy dance snapping my lobster claws!
Janet and Michael proudly hoist our wares onto their shoulders as we continue the pre-conference tour, little clippers in tow. I can barely think of anything else.
“How long will they be OK out of water?” was a major concern of mine. “Oh, fer a good couple o’ hours, several actually, and if you keep ’em in the fridge, they’ll be fine fer a couple o’days.”
Sadly, the evening went too late for us to have a feed of lobster that night. We had a gorgeous opening dinner at Jost Winery to tend to and a meeting afterward, so ran out of time! The following night, the crew cooked up the feast after the Kitchen Party. I was a party pooper. Went to the Kitchen party, then to bed. And party pooper the next night, too, when I didn’t even attend the Spring Supper. This was the gala evening and the one night not to be missed. It is put on by Slow Food Nova Scotia annually and this year, they did it at Tatamagouche for the National Conference. But, I just could not do it all.
Sadly, since acquiring asthma, the quality of my life and my ability to fit in 20 hours of movin’ and shaken’ a day has definitely diminished from that 10 or 12 hours on the rare occasion. I felt very guilty to not be able to support this event. As well, we were staying in such a lovely place, yet so far from any store or food supply and I was hungry. Voula got on her phone, texted Michael, and minutes later (I wish I had taken a photo of him, as it was truly a vision) there he was, walking across the front lawn to our door, wine glass half full in one hand, and a tray of lobster plus an extra leg, half a chicken, large chunk of cheese, generous cluster of grapes and a good lot of butter for me to melt and feast on for my “little dinner”, before having a hot shower and hitting the bed.
The taste, texture and flavour of that lobster will forever be etched in my brain. First, I was so disappointed I didn’t get to see Michael cook the lobster as this was going to be a good lesson for me. I completely missed out on that; however, though the flesh was cold, I had never tasted such succulent, sweet and luscious lobster in my entire life.
Sitting alone in the kitchen, sun shining over the waters on a chilly Spring early evening, I started with the skinny little legs. Each one was filled with really delicious meat. Not watery at all. Oh, such pleasure. No butter on these. Then I went for the knuckles. Oh. My. Goodness. I had thought of heating the meat, but instead melted the butter. The lobster knuckles were lovely cold, dipped into the unctuous decadent butter: sweet with the gentle salt from the sea and though cooked the day after they were harvested, so alive with flavour and texture and succulence that it was impossible to imagine they could possibly taste any better than they did at that very minute.. Mmmm. Leg after leg. Knuckle after knuckle. Next, I bit into a claw. Bliss. Heavenly bliss. I was saving the tail for last. I had always thought that was the best part, but no more. The knuckles and legs were actually my favourite this day. The claws did become my favourite after another fresh lobster eating experience, yet the tail was kind of rubbery. Don’t get me wrong. It was the best lobster tail I had ever eaten, but compared to the other parts of the lobster, the texture wasn’t as pleasant, or appealing as I had expected and I was truly surprised.
I ate the white meat all around the tamale. Smacked my lips. Licked my fingers, almost up to my elbows, and finally had that hot shower and went to bed dreaming of salty, lively, lovely, luscious lobsters all night long….
and how much fun it was to tickle their fancy!