Thursday, June 9, 2011

Lobster Buffet, Yankee Thrift, and Philadelphia

--Down in Philadelphia consuming heroic quantities with The Main Line Sportsman.  Liver transplant blogpost pending...

--Early rise for a sunrise summer stroll through Philadelphia and a quiet cup of coffee...

--Water being re-introduced into body...

--Small porterhouse and two fried eggs for breakfast...

--Taxi to 30th Street Station...



I return to Boston via Acela just in time for the lobster dinner.  As a child, I was reminded that I was merely a cog in the ancestral mechanism of attending this specific event.  A staggering buffet table with the unique smell of steamed lobster, melted butter, Sterno, and assorted seafood is lit by candles and centered with several impressive ice sculptures of lusty mermaids.  As a child, I was fascinated by the fact that under the table were stacks of milkcrates and shimmed-in scraps of wood to support the ice statues.  When I wasn't looking at the slowly melting anatomy of the voluptuous frozen ice mermaid, I was being elbowed along in the buffet line by the hoards of tight-jawed Yankee women with hand bags.

They approached the large simmering silver trays of lobsters... some cut lengthwise, others whole, others dissected.  The dish they were after contained the shelled meat from claws and tails, served with long tongs and forks and serving spoons.  The buffet was strictly self-serve for the lobster, and when the older women approached, they served themselves by plate, and then dropped large tongfuls of lobster meat into their handbags, where a generous open plastic baggie waited.  These women were the wifes and daughters of men who financed things like canals and railroads, men who pioneered tropical fruit exportation to New England, and men who directed companies with household names.  They filled their little bags with as much lobster meat as possible with clandestine ladling of flickering silver, pretending that the entire thing was not happening, and having a prepared line about a relative who could not make it that evening should anyone ask.  Several generations later, college girlfriends and soon-to-be spouses were still evaluated based partly by their willingness to participate in the poaching.  Back at the house, the women, still in their evening wear, met in the large kitchen and compared the takings... a particularly sporting young lady who had recently agreed to marry the young man of the house had quickly earned favor when it was revealed that her bag was the heaviest.  The following evening's dinner saw her seated directly next to Grandmother, who lavished (for Grandmother's standards) attention on her, and encouraged the younger cousins and grandchildren to take note.

One summer, during a food committee meeting, a new member hastily raised an off-agenda item, saying that she had come to learn that some of her fellow members were smuggling out lobster meat from the buffet and possibly even slabs of roast from the carving station during dinner.  She was indignant that something so "low-class" would occur in her club, and she thought that the food committee should intervene.  The committee chair listened carefully and quietly, knowing that his mother, grandmother, and even great-grandmother had been and were the chief practitioners of the maneuver in question, which was a family tradition.  The new member suggested that staff should serve the lobster from then on at all functions, and pressed further, stating that others also had this concern.  The chairman asked for the names, and wrote them down.  He did not like the threats, and further, he rather liked having delicious cold lobster salad for two days after the buffet as he always had.  He and his sisters were quite accustomed to the rich homemade bisque made from pilfered lobster meat that was served at home three days after the buffet, and on the fourth day, the last succulent pieces were unfrozen and stuffed into a beautiful haddock for baking.

The rabble-rouser was quickly dealt with.  The food committee chairman quietly consulted a "COMMITTEE SCHEDULE" and saw that the tennis clubhouse committee met on the same day and time.  The anxious vigilante was immediately appointed to the clubhouse committee, and the lobster would continue to fill handbags for years.


  1. "Food committee"...LOL!! Oh hell, I know the type well. Brilliant.

  2. Complimentary appetizers at any club function guarantees the Yankee Walkers and Canes Brigade will start lining up at 17:59.

  3. LBF: The committee names have been changed to protect the club, but you get the drift. The rabble-rouser in question used to request that the club's chef also attended the meetings... a man who already worked 18 hours a day, and she thought he should sit and listen to her talk about "fine cheeses" and her lust for truffles.

    Patsy: Years of lacrosse did not prepare me for the elbows-to-the-ribs I get in some of these lines. A 90-year old lady once jabbed my kidney as I reached for the last lemon square at a tea, and I nearly needed a transplant. I can't wait to be that old... I'll do the same.


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