Thursday, October 16, 2008

Sea Conks

A quick stop at a seafood market in Bangor brought with it a pleasant surprise. There, among haddock fillets, lobster meat and sides of red snapper, were a number of containers that read, “Down East Whelks.” These I instantly recognized as the so-called, “sea conks” of days gone by.

These mollusks are anathema to lobster fishermen. The carnivorous sea conks, or whelks, eat far more than their fair share of expensive lobster bait. As late as the 1970s, pickled whelks were a common sight in stores and fish markets up and down the Maine coast. But a string of laws, rules and reguations put this down-home industry out of business.
Anyway, to find these traditional treats for sale once again brought back a flood of pleasant memories, scenes of driving around on the Washington County blueberry barrens, fishing, hunting and always, eating pickled sea conks.

Appreciating this old-time treat takes some getting used to for many sensitive palates. The rubbery texture and snail-like appearance often puts people off. But for me, I can think of nothing better. Well, there is something better. “Bloaters,” or smoked alewives, are another traditional treat that government regulations have served to take off our table. But that’s another story for another blog.

For now, I’m just thankful to have access to one of my favorite, old-time foods. Long live the sea conk.

1 comment:

  1. Sea Conks! Yum!
    When I first went to live in Japan, one of the first exotic foods I had the pleasure of trying was sea conk. I was at the Hachiman Shrine Festival, a shrine to the Japanese mounted archers. The festival was exciting to watch and there were many different types of food to be sampled. The conk soup vender had a large aquarium containing live conks. I was to choose the conk I wanted; very much like choosing a lobster from the tank at the local grocer or seafood store here in Maine. The vender took the conk and dipped it into boiling water until it began to shrivel back into its shell. He then removed the conk and set it on an open brazier and poured a sweet sake and shoyu sauce into the shell. When the conk released itself from its shell the vender then removed the meat, cut it into bit size pieces and returned it to the broth. I was presented with a conk soup right in its own shell. Delicious! Nice to know I can get them here in Maine.