“Can you use 20 leftover cooked lobsters?” old Charlie Conrad yelled out the window of the Driftwood Inn back in the 1990s. (He was such a joker – whenever he saw our car packed up with four kids and a dog and the trunk bursting, he’d offer that we could stay another day for free.)

When I asked how much per lobster, he said, “A dollar each.”

So I sent my husband to watch the children play (he groaning in advance of the nine-plus-hour ride home), and returned to my just-cleaned cottage and pulled out lobster crackers, picks, a bowl and the mayo we’d left with some bread.

I couldn’t work fast enough to pull out the sweet chilled meat for sandwiches on the drive home as well as a baggie of leftovers. With sandwiches 3 inches full of lobster, our kids groaned, “Oh, we are so sick of lobster,” and I told them they sounded like rich spoiled brats and that one day they’d wish for a Bailey Island lobster roll.

Well, good old Charlie is long gone, and the price of lobster has gone up. For years we bought as many as 20 live ones at Glen’s in Mackerel Cove, packed in a cooler with ice, seaweed and newspaper. Often we heard the critters scratching to get out, and when a beady-eyed one peered out the top, our kids screamed in unison as the guy behind him tumbled to the floor.

For over 40 years we’ve traveled through the night from Philadelphia to the Inn and you learn to work smarter, not harder. You learn that after a long drive, the last thing you want to do is pull out a huge pot of water to boil lobsters when everyone is hungry and tired, and loads of laundry are looking at you.


So I got smarter. We now buy the lobsters at Glen’s Lobster Shack, sitting on a wharf on Mackerel Cove where the stench of bait is tolerated, just to bring home the freshest lobsters at the best price ever while supporting the local lobstermen, then return to cook the lobsters in our cottage and pick the meat to put into baggies with half and half as my friend Bindy suggested to keep them creamy, not freezer burned. Off to the freezer they go, our stock for our family’s traditional Thanksgiving appetizer, “Seafood Coquille St. Jacques.”

In 1954 my mother and father often took trips to Fort Monmouth, New Jersey, as part of his government business and the nearby swanky restaurant was called the Shadowbrook Inn. On one visit they were served the Coquille (French meaning “shell”), and Mom was smitten and asked for the recipe. When declined, she showed her Irish stubbornness and bribed the waiter a $5 tip to get it; thankfully she did and we’ve enjoyed it since.

But in Philly in the ’50s and ’60s, lobster was nowhere to be found other than a frozen solid South African lobster tail. I can still hear my mother whacking that tail with a rolling pin until it cracked and then she boiled it to death, but hey, it was our version of lobster. She was so proud of her dish and friends and family loved it and the story.

How I wish she knew that today, the beautiful fresh Maine lobster enhances this memory as a delicious tradition of our family. Even our baby grandchildren ask for “wobster” every year, and I grin as they scoop the lobster bits from their highchair trays. (I’ve also learned that this dish can be frozen and that I should always hide some for just my husband, Mike, and me. I’ve used rice flour for gluten-free guests and haddock for those allergic to shellfish.)

Thank you, lobstermen, for harvesting and working so hard to deliver your trap contents to us, for paying license fees, bait fees, fuel fees. You might tire of lobster up there, but trust me, we will never again purchase a lobster from a supermarket tank at outrageous prices.

We know your boat price is fair and worthy of the price you agree upon. And if you ever come to Philly, be sure to get one of our famous cheesesteaks!

Mom’s recipe is below:

Betty’s Seafood Coquille St. Jacques – Recipe | Cooks.com

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