A while back I got an email from David Giacone of East Hampton, the drummer for the band the HooDoo Loungers, who told me he had come across a recipe for my mother’s lobster casserole in a cookbook published by the Montauk Chamber of Commerce in 1958. Apparently, the editors of the book asked different people in Montauk to submit one recipe or another.
My mother’s recipe was called Lobster & Spaghetti Casserole. Here it is:
LOBSTER & SPAGHETTI CASSEROLE
Ingredients: 1/2 lb of butter, 1/2 lb sharp cheddar cheese, 1 bottle of ketchup, 1 pinch of dry mustard, 1/2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce, 1 lb. of spaghetti, 2 lbs. of cooked lobster.
Preparation: Melt butter & cheese in a double boiler. Add ketchup, mustard, & Worcestershire sauce. Cook spaghetti & drain. Fill a large buttered casserole w/layers of spaghetti, lobster chunks & melted cheese sauce. Bake covered for 1 hour at 350°. Serves 8.
Now, my mother took cooking seriously, and I mention this because of three things: One is that this recipe looks sort of like a joke. Ketchup? Two is I never recall my mom making lobster with ketchup, although considering the price of lobster in an East End fishing town then—cheap—we did have it fairly often. And three, it is a considerable honor (I guess) to have a recipe in a cookbook anywhere. It gets passed down through the ages. And this one did.
Also, cookbooks published in small towns are ways for nonprofits to raise money. People connected to the nonprofit go around town to merchants and, things being the way they were back then, ask the merchants to ask their wives to put in a recipe. They also ask the merchant to buy an ad in it for their business. Money raised would pay to print the book, would be a window into the world of what the community was eating, and would help the nonprofit.
Thus, in this book there are ads for Shagwong Tavern, White’s Liquor Store, Viking Fleet, the Jigger III, Uihlein’s Boat Rental, Gurney’s Inn and the Atlantic Terrace Motel, plus many more.
And though the recipes from the housewives are a serious business, there were also a few less-serious recipes that some of the men in town put in. One was for Richard Gilmartin’s Smothered Eels & “Galvanized Can” clambake. Richard was an insurance agent in town. Another was for Frank Tuma’s Montauk “Starve to Death” whatever that was. Frank was a Montauk real estate agent.
As for my mom, who passed away several years ago at the age of 94, she was not someone to joke. She stayed at home and cooked and baked and was proud of it. She would also tell you that, years earlier, she had been the valedictorian of Brooklyn Law School and became a lawyer, but then gave it up when she started having children because my dad, a pharmacist, told her he didn’t want her to work. Instead, he bought White’s Montauk Pharmacy. So here we were.
So now I have decided the time has come to host a dinner and serve my mother’s casserole. I thought I’d reach back and ask old friends. But first was family. I asked my sister Nancy, who now lives in Manhattan with her husband, Michael, to take a Jitney out, but she begged off. “Ketchup?” she asked. I then thought of Dave Giacone, who I have never met, though we email back and forth from time to time. He has threatened to try lobster casserole but hasn’t yet done so. I’ll do it, he’ll do it, we’ll compare notes.
It’s going to be a dinner for six. I’ve invited two friends I’ve known since the early days and their wives, and my wife will be there, of course. And then I thought, fearful of screwing it up (what’s a double boiler?), to show the recipe to Mazzu, the celebrated Brazilian caterer who lives and works out here in the Hamptons.
She read it, said it could work and that she would like to cook it for us. We’ll do the wine and the salad. She’s going to bring desserts.
We’re doing this on December 11. I’ll let you know what happens.