Vegetarian Lobster

maine lobster

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.

maine lobster plate

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.

scenic maine

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.


First artichokes of this year, April 2015

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. 🙂


  1. Melissa Shaw-Smith says:

    I have a July Birthday too and use it as a great excuse to have lobster–several summers we ate them up in Friendship, Maine. But last summer, staying at the coastguard station on Bunowen Pier, we were able to get a bucketful from the local fishermen. Always a treat! Happy Artichokes!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Always a treat alright. Can’t believe we used to have them so often that we nearly tired of them. Ah, well, it was really a small price to pay for moving to this land that has so much to offer. And I can get lobster if I want to, just not as easily or inexpensively. I think I’ll have to have them both this birthday!


  2. susurrus says:

    Thanks for sharing these evocative stories. I’ve had quite a hectic (if fun) few days and this has quite simply transported me – to your family home, your new home, your garden, friends and family. As I’ve been reading, my thoughts have turned to my own home.

    I’ve never had lobster but if I do, I’d love it to be a communal lobster bake!

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Roz Hill says:

    Hi MLISSA!
    Thanks for this wonderful post! I spent lots of time on the Yorkshire East Coast…folk festival time… where I remember eating yummy lobster, Whitby crab and fresh smoked herrings!
    Now as a new gardener the subject of growing artichokes often comes up, I have never tasted them! I have been put off by Phils immediate response, you mean fartichokes …. It has to be said, as I imagine they would taste like creamy sprouts, and I do like sprouts. Anyway Phil just said you can get a f… free variety…is this true I wonder! Sorry to be so specific but Phil has a tender tummy and can also only eat burpless cucumbers. I would love to give artichokes a go! Lol.
    Ps this year I am trying to grow an aubergine successfully , but so far they are half a centimetre tall! Wish me luck…🍆🍆🍆

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Roz, personally, I don’t find them bothersome, but we are each unique 🙂 They don’t really taste like sprouts, but if you like sprouts, i think you’d like them. You can always grow them for yourself. Has Phil looked into fermented foods? Great for the gut!
      I grew one aubergine plant last year quite unsuccessfully :). It was a spare from a friend and I accepted it, stuck it in the ground and then just watered it. Don’t know much about them. They are a warm weather plant, yes? I do enjoy eating them. Best of luck with them this year, keep me posted. My willow is doing well, seems happy in it’s new home. Showing some wee buds and a few leaves. Will probably thrive when the weather gets a bit warmer. Will post pics soon. Melissa Xx


  4. Sounds Wondrous ❤ absolutely delicious ..

    & yip those Artichokes love their forever home 🙂 .. I sadly cant grow them here .. my garden is all potted .. on day I will again 🙂 …. Have you tried Jerusalem Artichokes ? they ere the one that grow under the earth like potatoes .. an older and not so know variety .. but they are most yummy too 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • I ate Jerusalem artichokes only once. A friend tried to fool us dinner guests that they were potatoes, but the difference was obvious 🙂 I liked them. The gardener I mentioned who gave me the ‘chokes, also grew J-chokes. I’ve never been tempted to grow them as here in Ireland, potato is King! But I could change my mind now that you planted the seed in my thoughts. My family eats rice and pasta so another starch choice might be a good thing. Thanks for the suggestion Maia. Xx

      Liked by 1 person

      • There is always room for new babies in a garden … somehow 🙂 LOL .. but Oh Yes cant fail the wondrous tato 🙂 & its versatility … I used to love trying all the heritage varieties .. I still try the occasional unusual & organic tomato but they only do so well in hanging baskets & pots 🙂 but need a big garden again for the real joy in veggies 🙂 .. Yours sounds awesome ❤

        Liked by 1 person

        • I agree! I want to add celeriac also. Have you eaten that? I want to experiment with it, but especially use it to juice. Tomatoes do need quite a bit of space. Since we don’t eat out of season veg, I miss them desperately. I have in mind to semi-dry them and store in olive oil to use in the off season. I think it will work. Tomatillos are monstrous plants that are huge producers and make some amazing fermented salsa. I grew them last year and have seeded three types this year, yellow, purple, and green. I’ve got big plans for them 🙂
          And have you heard of oca? That interests me, and I know one gardener who successfully grows it here. Potato-like also, but not in the same family, so no blight.
          Anywho, I could seriously talk about food I love all day! I wish you a future of lush edible goodness growing in your own big garden, sooner than later. 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

          • Your tomatoes & salsa sound wonderful 🙂 ooo Love sundries tomatoes in olive oil .. often add them to bread for a Mediterranean feel 😉

            Celeriac haven’t had any for a while . but a wee bit more omph 🙂 than celery and awesome for stews & sups .. great flavour .. I kinda overdid that and cabbage juice some years ago though … so its not so tempting in juice these days LOL

            Oca .. yes once or twice .. Very nice ❤ ..its in the same family as jams & sweet potatoes isn't it ??? or maybe I'm remembering it wrong 🙂

            Ocra on the other hand I haven't quite managed to wrap my taste buds around in a warm embrace LOL .. I've tried several things with them but I have only managed an ok exceptional clearing though hmm & HA .. or whoopsee

            Oh .. not sure how big a potato patch you have .. but every 6 or 6 rows of potatoes if you plant a row of garlic .. when I did that .. I never had a problem with blight … also keeps off the white etc … & planting garlic even makes weevils run a mile 😉 awesome stuff & yummy too 🙂 ❤

            Have a magical Weekend ❤

            Liked by 1 person

          • That you enjoy toms in olive oil on bread is encouraging, as that is my intent to do with them also.
            What I have read about Oca is that they are in the oxalidacae family (according to my ‘Vegetables for the Irish Garden’ Book) and they are related to no other vegetable. When I googled the ox… family, it said again and again that it was part of the wood sorrel family of flowers, including oxalis; starfruit was also mentioned as a relative. The perennial herb sorrel, in the family Polygonaceae, not related despite it’s very high amount of oxalic acid. A few coincidences there for something unrelated, but I tired of the research and will maybe revisit it another day. Also see that oca is an acid lover, alkaline soil here so we’ll see how well it does afterall. The friend who grows it is on the mainland.
            I love the garlic idea, interplanting is definitely something we try to do. Our potato patch is pretty big and already in, but next year we will add it in. It will look nicer too 🙂
            I am not at all a fan of ocra either. Not many veg I am not fond of, but just didn’t appeal to me 😦 . Maybe I need to retry, it’s been years.
            Back to the garden! It’s a beautiful day, hope you’re enjoying it too ❤

            Liked by 1 person

          • Oh yes best way out and about in the garden /or elsewhere 🙂 and enjoying the day … research is for cold winter days to dream of spring and summer and what new things to try 😉 🙂 ❤

            As for the ocra .. that's what I did just before xmas .. retried it after many years … no improvements though 🙂 still hairy & slimy little bug .. hmmm ers ..pardon the language … on that not I will take myself back out in the garden too 🙂 for a little bit anyway ..its still nice out 🙂

            Liked by 1 person

  5. Happy to hear you found an alternative to Maine lobster, hard to beat…as you well know. But artichokes, dipped in warm butter ….yum, for sure! I’ll have the folks back here in your home state design one of those paper bibs we all wear while we dribble butter and lobster juice down our chins, yours will have an artichoke design on it ! I will try and imagine your family sitting outdoors at a picnic table, a big enamel pot steaming nearby, cups of warm butter placed at arms reach, and you all wearing paper artichoke bibs! We love artichokes as well……and love the idea of making a feast of them! Happy Gardening.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Funny, I considered mentioning the bibs, but the thought never truly formed completely. That would be a lovely sight! Wouldn’t it be just divine to have the both of them together?! I may be stretching my comparison a bit, but they’re also both messy to eat and require patience to get at all the goodness they have to offer. They really do have much in common…
      As for the bibs, we’d wear them!! Happy Gardening to you as well. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Murtagh's Meadow says:

    All this talk of sea food is making me hungry! I grew three artichoke plants last year but only one has come through the winter. I think now I should have covered them with straw. Ah we live and learn! Given the choice through I’d probably go for lobster over the artichoke!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mine never died back completely. I have them on a west wall, sheltered from the worst weather, as suggested by Klaus Laitenberger in ‘Vegetables for the Irish Garden’. He didn’t add anything about autumn care, but recommends composting around the base in the spring and ‘cutting back the flowering stalks at the base asap after harvesting the heads’, to ‘promote the growth of strong suckers which will produce a heavy yield in the following year’. It certainly is not a super productive crop, adding to it’s status as a delicacy in my mind.
      I would most definitely go for the lobster also. My tummy is grumbling now too! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Hi Melissa. Very close to where I live now, they have big open fields with artichokes, as I pass daily with Odin. Here they should be growing in 3 years, where the farmer can harvest the same plants. It was my first time to see them in a field and a large one 😀
    I like them myself and there are many great recipes to find online.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hey, If you’re steaming a pot of water and melting butter already, it seriously makes sense. Bibs, finger dipping bowls, ‘graveyard dish’ for the shells/leaves, and the amount of effort put into eating it….they are remarkably similar, and neither a dish most eat all that often 🙂


  8. Sarah says:

    I’m always trying to find perennials that will do well in my Mayo garden. I’d never thought of artichokes. I’ve only ever eaten them out of cans 😦 but I’d love to try them fresh. You make them sound wonderful. Could you tell me what your artichokes liked about the final location you chose for them?

    Liked by 1 person

    • They do well with protection from the wind, so I have them against a high wall. I cut and paste this from my comment several above, “I have them on a west wall, sheltered from the worst weather, as suggested by Klaus Laitenberger in ‘Vegetables for the Irish Garden’. He didn’t add anything about autumn care, but recommends composting around the base in the spring and ‘cutting back the flowering stalks at the base asap after harvesting the heads’, to ‘promote the growth of strong suckers which will produce a heavy yield in the following year’.”
      The gardener who I got the divisions from has them in a field that is also protected and a bit sunken. I know he doesn’t cut the flower stalks and they are still productive, but wonder if perhaps they would offer more fruit by doing so.
      They are nice fresh and from a can. More nutritious fresh, and less expensive, and such a lovely plant to look at. Have fun growing them!


  9. Pingback: Rick Griffin – Landscape Architect | Susan Rushton


Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: