A Little Taste of Maine in Iowa
My friends Mindy and Mike are both born and raised Iowans. Neither of them had tasted lobster before, so when Mike won four lobsters (proper Maine lobsters, not that silly creature that West-coasters call a rock lobster) in a golfing competition, they decided to share their shellfish prize with friends at a Memorial Day weekend cookout. As a New England transplant, I’m the local seafood expert, so my role that evening was to teach a hands-on workshop of sorts on How to Cook & Eat Lobster. This sort of knowledge — the kind we acquire from growing up around certain kinds of foods — is something I think we all take for granted, until we find ourselves among people with a different culinary background. (Someday I’ll write a post about everything I’ve learned about corn since moving to the Midwest…) None of the Iowans knew that shellfish should be kept alive right up until it’s cooked, because it spoils so rapidly the danger of food poisoning is high. Likewise, no one understood why the instructions that came with the lobsters specified that they be put into the pot head-first, until I explained that lowering the lobsters into the pot tail-first would allow them to feel the dangerous heat, and their reaction would likely be to flick up their tails, splashing boiling water onto the cook.
The lobsters were flown in from Maine, packed in seaweed, on the day of the cookout. It was a lot of fun watching everyone peek into the styrofoam cooler at the lobsters. There was a little bit of shrieking, some poking, and a few skeptical looks from the self-declared “meat and potatoes people.”
Even so, everyone entered into the spirit of culinary adventure and at least gave the lobster a try, grimacing as they tore apart the joints and cracked into the shells.
In addition to the V.I.P. guests from Maine, as Mike dubbed them, our hosts served burgers, an amazingly tender and flavorful smoked pork tenderloin, and classic cookout sides like coleslaw and potato salad. The guests contributed flaky, cheesy biscuits, smoked prawns with BBQ-cocktail sauce, and a seductive array of desserts that included fruit salad, angelfood cake with whipped cream and strawberries, and cream-cheese frosted carrot cake. (I brought B.’s Mom’s Cheesecake Brownies.) It was a great evening, full of stories and laughter and wonderful food. Mindy and Mike are the sort of people who put the heart in the Heartland.