IF THEY'D only learn to make lobster pancakes I'd be back for breakfast," said Elizabeth Heckman an elementary school teacher from Towson, Md., as she broke off one claw of her boiled lobster. It was her fourth visit to Robinson's wharf during her two day stay in Boothbay Harbor. She and her husband Raymond would each have one more lobster before heading home.
For Belle Wynnett from Massapequa, L.I., lobsters are the sole reason for an annual trek to Boothbay, but her husband, Arthur, claims lobsters are the bonus along with the cool weather and the sea coast. Just the same, before they unpacked when they arrived Sunday, they went down to Robinsons to get their lobster feasting vacation underway.
Both lobsters and tourists are having a boom season in Maine with the nation's exceptional heat driving Texans as well as others to find relief in Maine's summer climate which almost guarantees a cool breeze off the water and blanket weather at night.
John McGuire, an insurance broker from New York, celebrated his arrival on the Maine Coast with a two and a half pound lobster plus streamers, then settled to a normal (for him) diet of one and a half pounders for lunch, two pounders for dinner. Such "self control" was not always the case, he admitted, having once tucked away six lobsters in one sitting.
Robinson's Wharf is the Boothbay area's best and most popular lobster wharf though it's actually located in Southport a few hundred yards on the other side of the bride which links the Southport island with Boothbay. The Wharf was a bowling alley with a dance floor, all pretty much rotted away when Richard Hodgdon bought it in 1967, putting lobster pounds where they used to dance and building a restaurant where the bowling alley was. He constructed a wharf for picnic tables, now the most popular part of the restaurant.
The restaurant uses about 500 pounds of lobster a day, for whole lobsters boiled in seawater, lobster stew and lobster rolls. A one pound lobster with corn on the cob and potato chips is $4, the dinner with a 1 1/4 lobster $4.50, and 1 1/2 pounder $6. They also distribute about 3,000 pounds more daily for other restaurants in the area. One woman picks 250 pounds of lobster meat in 2 1/2 hours daily.
Hodgdon passes up lobster entirely. "Not because I'm around them so much," he insists, but he never liked them, even as a little boy in the area when he would catch lobsters and sell them to the summer residents at 25 cents to 30 cents a piece.
Mary Mack, the wharf's cook, says Hodgdon comes into the kitchen each midday and says, "I wonder what I'll have for lunch today," and always has her fish chowder.
Mack is so protective of her chowder recipe -- not even the prestigious gourmet magazines can get it from her. All she'll say is that the chowder is all halibut and has onion in it.
She cooks with 60 pounds or more of fresh lobster daily, using the culls. "Most people don't want the cull, the one claw lobster," says Hodgdon. "Psychologically, they resist it but its clearly the best buy for the money. Mack makes between 25 and 30 quarts of lobster stew daily, and about the same amount of fish chowder.
Hodgdon has given up trying to get Mack to make clam chowder. "You can buy it everyplace," she says. "Besides it sticks to the pot, burns and curdles too quick. But I certainly know how to make it," she assured her visitor.
Shortly after lobsterman Harold Simmons leaves home each morning, his wife, Deborah, heads for Robinson's Wharf where she produces the house's other specialty -- homemade pies. She averages 20 pies daily, almost half blueberry.
She's only had two pieces of pie herself all summer. "You can't snitch pie the way you can a brownie," she says.And while the pies run out each night long before the restaurant closes, she's not satisfied with them. The blueberry pies leak. She's tried all the known tricks, macaroni in the top, wetting the crust, and even using tape, but more often than not they still leak, making the serving difficult. If there's anything unusual about her crust, which makes customers forget any of the other problems, she thinks it may be in the vinegar she adds. f
While lobster is currently plentiful, Hodgdon is skeptical about an endless harvest. He remember 1970 when they used over 3 million pounds of Maine shrimp. Last year they got only 140,000 pounds. "They told us it was a three-year cycle," says Hodgdon shrugging his shoulders. He's afraid that kind of drop could happen to lobster.
Helen and Robert Pope, who came East from San Bernardino, Calif., by camper, made sure their personal supply of lobster would not run out by stocking up with cooked lobster for the next leg of their trip down toward Boston.
Most tourists conquire lobster eating after the first try with directions from a friend or the diagram in a brochure. Seymour Hernes was checking the procedure against a picture in a brochure as he pushed the meat out of the lobster tails. "I do it by numbers," he said. Added said his wife, Clara "Babe" Hernes: "Just like a sex manual."