Hot Tomale Sauce

Where there is a summer visitor, there is a summer visitor industry. A part of that industry is dedicated to making and selling products the visitor can take home. Living along the coast of Maine, I saw many items made for visitors; some were very nice, and some just plain strange.

Among the oddities have always been the miniature sculptures made from lobster shells. Probably made from cannery or restaurant waste, the little reconstructed lobster figures get posed comically on a bit of pine with some laconic hand-painted motto.
Some time ago, a gal in the Boothbay region got into the idea of recycling from the woods. Spruce is a common tree in the woods and a favorite menu item for moose. The crafter selected moose droppings that were greenish and primarily composed of the undigested spruce remains. After thorough drying and extensive lacquering, she had an attractive source for earrings, pendants, necklaces, and other jewelry. If you could get over an initial distaste for wearing poo, they were pretty and with the lacquering look almost jade-like in appearance. If the earing shattered, all you had was spruce scented dust.

My father-in-law, the Cap’n, was friendly with Bubba Gray. Bubba needed extra money for a new tarted-up pickup truck. His wife, who managed the family lobster business, said no. Bubba then started to look for something he could sell that was free or cheap to obtain.
The local niche for lobster figures and spruce pillows was taken.

While enjoying a lobster dinner one Sunday with the Cap’n, the two were eagerly devouring their favorite part of the lobster, the tomale. For those who love this as a delicacy, it is the very essence of lobster condensed. But for those who don’t appreciate it, it’s a toxic stew of waste products.

For those unfamiliar with it, tomale is the lobster’s liver and pancreas. While lobster meat is accepted as clean and edible, many studies have concluded that the tomale can be a toxic stew of any toxins in the material the lobster ate. After all, the liver is the organ that concentrates and eliminates these wastes. So Bubba’s great idea, eagerly seconded by all the tomale lovers at the table, was to can up a tomale hot sauce for sale in local shops.
Soon odors were wafting out of the Grey’s kitchen as Bubba, his wife, and daughter cooked and canned a sample batch. Finally, a local printer ran up a pack of labels proudly proclaiming that this was “Grey’s Hot Tamale Tomale Sauce.” In smaller print beneath this, it read: Maine’s special hot lobster sauce.

Next Sunday, the Grey’s invited all the neighbors down for a sampling party. The dinner’s main course was lobster, and at each table was also a jar of “Grey’s Hot Tamale Tomale Sauce.” At first, things seemed to go well. Everyone loved lobster. Then the hot tomale sauce went into play. The Cap’n was the first to spit it out. Salt and pepper were the limits of his spice tolerance; tamales in his tomale were a few steps beyond his tolerance level. His wife Cora, a real tomale fan, blanched at the flavor. I, not liking tomale to start with, reached for the water to wash my mouth out. John Allen, a member of the local Board of Health, was overheard wondering how much product liability insurance Bubba was planning on purchasing for his product.

The launch party turned out to be less than a success, and Grey’s Hot Tamale Tomale Sauce never made it to market. However, Bubba was able to get rid of the initial run when they found that the sauce was a great additive to the bait pouches put in the lobster traps. The hot sauce made a hit with the local lobsters, and they crowded into the traps. Thus, Bubba made back his investment and made enough money that his wife relented, and he got his new truck.