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June 13, 1982


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SHERRY MARKER is a writer who lives in Northampton, Mass. BY SHERRY MARKER

Of all the ways to eat lobster, the best has to be in the lobster's own backyard, in the villages and coves of coastal Maine. From Kennebunkport to Eastport, from Boothbay Harbor to Bar Harbor, spring doesn't signal the return of the crocus half as much as the reappearance of the lobster. Most lobsters spend the winter hibernating in deep waters, but by June they have come to the shallows, where lobstermen are waiting. Just as Vermont means maple syrup, Maine, where 22.6 million pounds of lobster were caught last year, means lobster. Maine exports canned lobster, frozen lobster and live lobsters, with companies such as Maine Coast Seafoods (800-341-1756) speeding a million pounds of lobster a year throughout the United States and Europe.

Lobster has become something of a delicacy, but before 1800 lobsters were plentiful enough to be used as fertilizer by Maine farmers. Lobsters, in fact, were so abundant that they were simply gathered from shallows and beaches, with no need for the lobster traps (called pots) that are used today.

By contrast, the European lobster (slightly smaller of claw and deeper of hue than its American cousin, the Homarus americanus) was never this plentiful. In part this may explain the difference in tone between the reverential recipes in ''Larousse Gastronomique'' and the heartier traditional New England recipes.

Most New Englanders regard dishes like lobster mousse and lobster a la parisienne (lobster slices with truffles in aspic) as the worst sort of lily gilding and tend to prefer a simple boiled lobster with drawn butter or a lobster feed of lobsters, clams and corn on the cob roasted on the beach.

The lure of the lobster is such that places like the Kennebunkport Inn offer special packages that include lodging, a lobster dinner and a cruise. The Kennebunkport Inn puts its guests aboard the Finest Kind, which sails on a Downeast lobster-hauling cruise out of Perkins Cove near Ogunquit.

The Finest Kind, which has a cabin and offers stacks of wool blankets to her passengers for protection against stiff sea breezes, is considerably more comfortable than a typical lobster dory. Still, the ride simulates a lobster boat's run along the coast to check traps while a crew member offers a commentary on lobsters and lobstering. Best of all, all lobsters caught during the cruise are offered for sale at low off-the-boat prices.

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