Tuesday, December 11, 2007

A nerd grows in Charleston.

After yesterday, I started brooding over the history of lobster and how it got from poverty food to delicacy. (I know, I know. You'd think I could come up with a better topic to brood over, but I'm sure tomorrow it will be something else - aluminum manufacture, goat breeding in Manchuria, the use of citrus fruits in traditional holiday food. You know. Important stuff.) So I hit Google.

There's a good article here, more about the history of lobstering than lobster as food, but it repeats what I said yesterday about how servants put it in their contracts to not eat lobster more than three days a week. But somehow it jumps from the status of lobster as food fed to prisoners in the 1800s, to how lobster wasn't rationed in WW2 because it was considered a delicacy.

I wanna know when and why people decided they were a big deal and fancy and upper-class dinner party food.

Reading over at Food Timeline, where I should have gone in the first place (I fucking love that web site) mentions that in Europe it was always a delicacy, and it was in the New World/N America that people considered it very common in all senses of the word. I'm sure supply and demand had a great deal to do with that; if you can gather them for free off the beach (which was done in the colonial era) it's going to be taken for granted.

Further poking around isn't revealing much. It looks like rich folks inland decided they liked it, started paying exorbitant amounts to have them shipped, and it suddenly became the cool new food to eat. Viola. Instant delicacy. Modern advertisers would be proud. This whole process happened between the 1850s and WW2. Not finding any details on it.

I'll stop now, before you all send me hate mail about finding the history of lobster on a knitting blog. Hahaha.

7 comments:

Sheepish Annie said...

Here in Maine, we take our lobster very seriously! It is never boring. For some people, it is a livelihood, but not always a lucrative one. I've also known one or two lobstering families who actually considered it the food to eat when there is nothing else. (not so much in my area, but further up the coast...)

Hard to believe what people will pay for those crustaceans, though! I think we might be a bit spoiled...

Catie said...

I love lobster - your writing makes me drool a bit. Perhaps part of the value we put on lobster has to do with the fact that it is a delicacy in Europe. What is done in Europe is considered chic, even if it is run-of-the-mill there. So if something is a delicacy or trendy in Europe it influences how we think of it (espeically in terms of clothes, but why not food too in some cases). I'm sure this is not the whole story, and that it is likely only a small part of the shift but I thought I'd put out there a bit of what I see with other facets of life

Leanne said...

My mother's family owned a lobster cannery on the east coast of Canada. When she was young, during the depression, she took lobster sandwiches to school almost every day, which identified her as one of the "poor kids". When the family cooked lobster for dinner, they would close all of the windows so that the neighbours wouldn't smell it. She didn't eat lobster for years after that - although now she does, and loves it!

Alwen said...

I'll bet it had something to do with the spread of railroads across the US. Pack 'em in ice first, then eventually you get your first reefer-cars (refrigerated boxcars).

I know (from having an engineer great-grandfather & living near an ex-hatchery) that in the 1870's they were using rail to transport live fish for stocking. It's only a short jump from transporting live hatchlings to looking around for "what else can we send by rail?"

debsnm said...

You know what happened between 1850 & WW2? We moved west - way beyond the boundaries where you could get fresh lobster. That's probably when it (especially Maine lobster) became a delicacy. In order for the Vanderbilts/Fords/Rockefellers to enjoy their "everyday" food, they had to spend exorbitant amounts of money to catch and keep it fresh. And, as we all know, whatever the rich eat, we must eat. Think of aspic - now called Jell-o!

Amy Lane said...

Who knew a shell-fish with very little brain had a history. Of course, I wish I had more of a history with the damn fish--looooove lobster, but I can read about it!

roz said...

if people want to read about knitting on a blog, they should start their own damn blog.

There. Now I'm off to work. :-D