This section is from the book "Meals Medicinal", by W. T. Fernie. Also available from Amazon: Meals Medicinal: With "Herbal Simples" Curative Foods From the Cook in Place of Drugs From the Chemist.
In general physical composition the Lobster (Homaris vulgaris), and the sea shore Crab (Cancer pagurus), are practically identical, being crustacean, with a skeleton formed mainly of "chitin," a peculiar gelatin sparingly soluble in the stomach. Also in its shell the lobster owns a resinous substance, brownish-green until boiled, and then turning to a bright red. This gives a particular odour and taste to lobster broth. The flesh of a lobster contains much soluble gelatin. Butler in his Hudibras makes use of this creature for a simile:-
"The sun had long since in the lap Of Thetis taken out his nap, And, like a lobster boiled, the morn From black to red began to turn".
Nevertheless when Alice in Wonderland stood up before the Gryphon to repeat a nursery rhyme, she told a somewhat different story:
" ' Tis the voice of the lobster, I heard him declare You have baked me too brown: I must sugar my hair! As a duck with its eyelids, so he with his nose Trims his belt, and his buttons, and turns out his toes".
The Lobster has two teeth in its mouth, and three more in its stomach, all of a calcareous nature, and formerly made, when powdered, into lozenges for use against acidity. The scarlet coral of a Lobster is its ovary, full of eggs; in its general composition the flesh is nutritious, though indigestible for gouty persons. Tinned lobster is apt to develop poisonous ptomaines when eaten, and should be avoided almost invariably. Likewise the stomach of a lobster, which contains its teeth, and is known popularly as "the old lady in the arm chair," is an unwholesome part. As said Robert Lovell (1661), the sum of the matter is that "Lobsters are for strong stomachs: they are best in the full of the moon: they give a strong nourishment, and an indifferent stomach".
According to Dr. Hutchison, "three ounces of potted lobster require about two and a half hours for digestion in the stomach".
For cooking a lobster the ancient way was to open it lengthways, and fill it with a gravy compounded with coriander seeds, and pepper. It was then put on the gridiron, and slowly cooked, being basted with the same kind of gravy as already used.
A Lobster can run with great speed, and can spring, tail foremost, to a considerable distance, even with the swiftness of a flying bird. One of the large claws is always knobbed, or "numb," and the other is like a saw, for holding and cutting up the lobster's food. Its body consists chiefly of liver, with fat not readily digestible; the flesh fibres are dense and coarse, becoming softer if eaten with vinegar, which also neutralises such ammoniacal salts as are likely to be present. Lobsters are carnivorous, and predatory. Jules Janin jocularly called the creature a Marine Cardinal, because assuming a red dress when cooked. Pope, in his Farewell Ode to London, has told of exchanging "Luxurious lobster nights For sober studious days".
Samuel Pepys (1660), May 27th, says in his diary, "Dined in my cabin, where Mr. Drun brought me a lobster, and a bottle of oil instead of vinegar, whereby I spoiled my dinner; late to a sermon".
Concerning the marine Crab, it was long ago (1656), declared "excellent against consumption, hecticks, phthisicks, and asthmas; the eyes (calcareous) take away all acidities, breaks the stone, dissolves the tartareous ooagulations, and congealed blood." Crabs also were prescribed of old as of value for increasing a flow of maternal breast-milk. It is the black-clawed species which comes to our tables.
Again, the Crayfish, or Crawfish (Cancer atacus), affords a very nourishing aliment that hath recovered divers in consumption. The soup concocted therefrom is Bisque, which used to be known in this country as cullis, because it needed a coulis, or veal broth for its completion. Herbs, spices, some white wine, and anchovies are intermixed with the standard broth of the Crayfish. Bisque soup has been long credited with strengthening curative powers, and as a sexual restorative. "Le bouillon d-'ecrevisses fait un bouillon analeptique, anciennement recommande dans la phthisie pulmonaire, dans la lepre, et dans les affections du systeme cutani." In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries the Crayfish was much esteemed as an antidote to hydrophobia; the fish was to be collected when the sun was astrologically in a certain house, and was to be cooked whilst alive.