Pilgrim Seasonings

Plymouth Colony Foodways: Notes and Recipes from a 17th Century Kitchen

Lopster lurking

August 1st, 2012 by KM Wall

“…our bay is full of lobsters all the summer, and affordeth variety of other fish…”
-Mourt’s Relation, Applewood ed, p. 84. 11 Dec 1621 letter from E.W. to “Loving and Old Friend”.


Willem Claeszoon Heda. Breakfast with a Lobster (seventeenth century).

“In the same bay, lobsters are in season during the four months [May, June, July and August] –so large, so full of meat, and so plentiful in number as no man will believe that hath not seen. For a knife of three halfpence, I have bought ten lobsters that would well have dined forty labouring men. And the least boy in the ship, with an hour’s labour, was able to feed the whole company with them for two days; which, if those of the ship that come home do not affirm upon their oaths, let me forever lose my credit!”

-John Pory to the Earl of Southampton, Jan 13, 1622/3 in Three Visitors to Early Plymouth, James,ed.p. 9.

Although the painting is labeled “Breakfast with Lobster” it’s pretty apparent that it’s a crab….and at looking at what few recipes there are for lobster (or lopster) they are very often used in the same recipe as a crab. There are also not a whole lot of lobster recipes before the first half of the seventeenth century in English cookbooks, although I do now want to check out all the crab recipes to see if there is more lopster lurking there.

When I look at recipes, I look for persistence – how does this foodstuff show up over the long haul? Since there are so few recipes for lobsters, I ended up going VERY far back. And the recipes are very similar:

1381 Pegge Cook.Recipes (Dc 257) p.115:  Nym the Perche or the Lopuster and boyle yt and kest sugur and salt also thereto.

1381 Pegge Cook.Recipes (Dc 257) 117:  For to make a Lopister. He schal be rostyd in his scalys in a ovyn.

C. 1500 Gentyll manly Cokere (MS Pepys 1047)
A lopstere. A lopster shall be bakyn yn a noven or vnder A pan by the fyre side and then ete hym with vyneAger.

To boil Lobster or Crab.

Take Water, Vinegar, Salt, and Pepper-powder, let it cook well together (let it come to a rolling boil), add Lobster or Crab. He will have a beautiful color.”

-         Rose, Peter. Sensible Cook, p. 70.

The Sensible Cook is a Dutch Cookbook (translated by  Dutch Foodways historian Peter Rose www.peterrose.com/ ) from mid-seventeenth century, so that’s three hundred years of pretty much the same treatment for the lobster   – boil it or bake it and serve it with vinegar. Notice the no butter.

In 1660 Robert May, in The Accomplist Cook tosses in a real game changer: He has a whole section of lobster recipes, starting off with “To stew Lobsters” which includes Claret wine, butter, and then some more butter….; to stew them in clarified butter; to hash them with – yep, that’s right – more butter; and then to boil them,to keep them, to farce them, to marinate them, to broil them, to roast them, to fry them, to bake them, to pickle them, to jelly them, and then there are the ‘otherways’. There are twenty-one recipes in all. Butter abounds. Crabs have a section all their own.

And lobsters rate their own section in the Plimoth Colony story, too. But that’s for tomorrow.

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