I grew up in a family of lobstermen and was therefore blessed with plenty of one of my favourite foods. Having a summer birthday, I was often treated to a lobster bake with family and friends–the only way to have a lobster bake. I’m not certain it was always held in celebration of me, but I like to remember it that way. So please family of mine, don’t inform me otherwise.
The state of Maine where I’m from even has the option of having a lobster on your automobile license plate. I never had the lobster plate, but I did have a vanity plate that read ‘MLISSA’, six letters being the maximum allowed. I was always caught off guard when the toll booth operators on the highway would say, ‘Hi Melissa’. I’m pretty sure I’m a bit sharper these days.
Back then, lobster was affordable and readily available, making it also easily taken for granted. Now, married to an Irishman and living in Ireland, I could count on both hands the number of times I’ve eaten lobster in the past eight years. It’s not so easy to get here on the island. There was a year when we were renovating that we lived in a rental house across the street from a fisherman who gave us lobster and fish in exchange for home-baked cakes and lasagna. The lasagna was a gamble, he being a senior Irishman, and my knowing boiled spuds with fish or meat were most dinners for him. So when he said to me that my lasagna was ‘altogether lovely’ and I could make it for him anytime, I was greatly flattered. I took it as such a compliment that I use the expression sparingly, and when I ever do say it to someone, it has been carefully considered beforehand. He never said much, well, he talked plenty in Irish with Johnny, but never about much more than the weather and fishing. He died a few months back, God rest his soul.
Johnny did buy some lobsters from a friend for a couple of my birthdays; an awesome surprise! Unfortunately, all my children adore it also so I usually choose to go without, opting instead for more affordable birthday meals. In the past couple of years, I have found a near substitute. Something that I (almost) consider in the same league as my beloved lobster. Something that has (almost) satisfied my cravings for lobster. And something I can definitely grow myself.
I first tried artichokes as a young adult. I considered them quite gourmet, like many foods that I adore that were not introduced to me by my parents. But even after discovering, I only had them a few times, prepared by someone else, and I never considered them much again.
After our transatlantic move, I wanted to get a better understanding of growing in this different climate. Upon visiting a well-established garden on the island, I was amazed at the sight of artichokes that seemed to be growing wild in a field. This delicacy could be grown here? Obviously so. I ordered some seeds and sowed them. They grew fabulously, but I killed them. Not yet living where our own garden was located, I never planted them in the ground, they suffered from being potbound and ended up in the compost heap. A few summers back I worked at the aforementioned garden with perks being freshly picked artichokes to eat and an amazing gardener’s knowledge at my fingertips. He generously offered me plant divisions to transplant to my garden. I took them, but unsure where the ‘best spot’ was to plant them, they too died. Back I went the following year and got more. I’m not sure if I admitted to him my failure to properly care for those he previously gifted to me. It mattered not because I’d changed my neglectful ways and had picked out and prepared the best spot. Well, Johnny did– ‘anywhere in the damn earth’, according to him, was the best spot. Not completely true, but he was tired of my procrastination and unwillingness to commit. They are perennials after all, so permanent. It had to be right. And it was.
Those first couple of weeks eating steamed artichokes (like lobster) dipped in warm melted butter (like lobster) déjà vu came over me. Though I still crave lobster, I’m thinking these may be just as good. My parents may not buy into it, but I’ve dubbed artichokes my vegetarian lobster. And I see a new family tradition in my future–the artichoke bake. After all, we keep chickens, and they’re often put in the pit for those non-lobster eaters. We gather razor clams and they’d substitute for quahog clams. We even grow all the other essentials– corn, potatoes, onions. And if anyone wants to show up with a lobster or two, they’re welcome also. 🙂