Maine’s iconic lobster industry has taken its share of lumps in the past year. Stricter 2019 quotas on the herring catch drove bait prices up. A cold 2019 spring meant the bugs molted later than usual, delaying when lobstermen could bring popular soft-shell lobsters (sometimes sold as “new-shell”) to market. On Sept. 1, China raised tariffs on live, American-caught lobster by 10 percent. And throughout the winter, scientists, environmentalists and the courts demanded the lobster fishery change to better protect endangered right whales  (the population hovers at just 400). The overall lobster haul dipped by 16% between 2018 and 2019, although harvesters were buoyed to some extent by higher than normal prices.

Yarmouth resident Rebecca Spear — wife, daughter-in-law and mother of lobster fishermen — explains that when the COVID-19 crisis first hit Maine in March, she didn’t immediately panic over how the pandemic might affect the 2020 income of the lobstermen and boys in her life (her 10-year-old son, Jack, holds a student lobster and crab license). “That’s always the slow season for us,” Spear said.

If you’ve got leftover lobster, you’ve got the makings of a deluxe breakfast. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

But as restaurant service in Maine and across the country remains truncated leading into prime lobster-eating season, she is worried now. Selling direct to customers was a good springtime stopgap solution. Spear is grateful that Maine eaters have sought out more locally sourced food as the national food supply has struggled in response to the pandemic. She urges Mainers to continue to buy lobster early and often this summer to help keep the fleet afloat. Here’s my suggestion: buy a few extra, cook them all for dinner, and serve the leftovers with eggs for breakfast.

Many fishing families make most of their annual income between late June and mid-October, Spear says. Solid summer lobster sales are key to their year-round survival. This season, most lobstermen are bracing themselves for overall lower sales. Additionally, they probably can’t count on the bonus income some of them normally collect from highly regulated summertime catches of halibut and tuna; both are high-value, large fish that are usually purchased by restaurants.

To help Maine fishing families weather this financial storm, Spears and fellow lobsterman’s wife, Monique Coombs of Harpswell, are curating a seafood-centric community cookbook. The pair are soliciting recipes from Maine home cooks and restaurant chefs that feature any Gulf of Maine species from dogfish and herring to sea urchin and whelks. Proceeds from the “Maine Coast Fishing Families Seafood Cookbook,” which is expected to be available by late fall, will benefit the Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association, the nonprofit organization for which Coombs works. She says the money will be used for programs that directly support Maine’s fishing families.

Maine women’s groups have been creating cookbooks to raise money for causes they care about for more than a century, said cookbook historian Don Lindgren of Rabelais Books in Biddeford. “And we’re not just talking about token sums raised by these culinary publishing efforts,” he said. Lindgren has done research in which he’s matched recorded print run numbers with church building costs reported in architectural magazines to measure the impact cookbook sales could have on a capital campaign. “In many cases, we’re talking about cookbook sales contributing up to $20,000 on a $100,000 church building,” Lindgren said.

From his collection of Maine community cookbooks, Lindgren pulled several seafood-centric ones. The earliest he noted was a mimeographed collection of recipes from Maine housewives collated by the Maine Sea and Shore Department circa 1935. After that, book numbers swell, published by both island communities that catered to tourists and by women’s groups in working waterfront towns. The former often featured complicated lobster preparations and fancy oyster dishes, the latter utilitarian recipes for whitefish balls and sardine sandwiches.

One of the most recent ones, a black plastic spiral-bound book with a royal blue cover called the “Maine Fishermen’s Wives Association Seafood Cookbook,” includes over 450 recipes. Lindgren believes it was first published 1986 (the copy he has) and then reprinted at several points through 1998 (the copy I have). I bought my copy the summer I moved to Maine, and it has taught me how to sauté cod cheeks, steam Maine shrimp, and corn hake. But the book offers no clues on the recipes’ origins.

Spear and Coombs say they are limiting their book to about 120 recipes to allow plenty of room for pictures and words that tell the stories of the cooks and fishermen behind the recipes. If you have a fish tale to tell and a recipe to go with it, email them to [email protected] or [email protected] by the end of June.

CHRISTINE BURNS RUDALEVIGE is a food writer, recipe developer and tester, and cooking teacher in Brunswick, and the author of “Green Plate Special,” a cookbook from Islandport based on these columns. She can be contacted at [email protected]

Lobster omelet. Sales of the crustacean are threatened by the pandemic, only the latest in a host of woes faced by lobstermen. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Lobster and Eggs
Steamed lobster is my staple summer dinner party trick for Maine visitors. I often cook a few extra lobster to serve with eggs the next day because the combination always feels so decadent to my out-of-state guests. Past Maine community cookbooks call this dish many things, from Gay Island Lobster Scramble and Barnacle Bill Ridgewell to Jigger’s Delight. Here is my version.
Makes 1 omelet, big enough to feed 2 people

4 eggs
2 tablespoons cream
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon butter
1/4 pound of picked lobster meat
1/4 teaspoon red chile flakes
2 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons chopped chives

Crack the eggs into a large measuring cup. Add the cream and salt. Beat with a fork until well combined.

Melt the butter in an 8- or 10-inch non-stick skillet over medium heat. Add the lobster and chile flakes. Cook gently until the lobster warms through. Pour the egg mixture into the pan. When the edges begin to set, use a rubber spatula to gently push the edges toward the center to allow the uncooked eggs to flow over to meet the hot pan. When the eggs are almost completely set, sprinkle the cheese and chives over the surface of the omelet. Fold the omelet in half. Turn off the heat and let the residual heat finish cooking the center of the omelet as it rests for about 5 minutes. Serve the omelet warm.


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