Come Aboard, And Have a Hake!

NEIGHBOR, one of our Friendship lobster catchers, was coming out of Archie's store just as I started in, and we did one of those bypass schottisches that give everybody a good laugh.

"Come aboard! Come aboard!" he invited. "Have a hake!"

Green-to-green and red-to-red we got by each other all right, and the door closed with him out and me in.

Inside, I found a goodly assembly of the righteous, some picking up groceries and some getting warm. Perley was waiting for an Italian sandwich which Don, who minds the store, was laminating.

"Have a hake!" he'd said.

In the freemasonry of down-Maine, that's esoteric enough for anybody. Chummy spoke first. "Wouldn't a piece of corned hake go some old good right now!"

Leon said, "Where'd you hunt to find a piece?" Chummy said he wouldn't know, but to bring him back some if you found any.

Peggy Cass, who used to be on the panel of the television show "To Tell The Truth," told me once that she suspected a contestant was from Maine, and to find out was about to ask him, "What's corned hake?"

But she said she realized in time that corned hake wouldn't mean a thing on the Pacific Coast. She shifted to another question, and then as she was telling about this she betrayed her own Massachusetts origin by adding, "Wouldn't I love to have some right now!"

In Archie's store the topic was now corned hake.

"My father put down a keg of hake every year," said Leslie. "Corned it light, and when he took it from the brine he'd tack each fish on the shed wall to dry in the sun. Finest kind. He'd bring in a new hake every so often, and we thought we were rich."

So this can be understood on the Pacific Coast, the hake is one of the Gadidae - the codfish family. Comes as silver, squirrel, spotted, and white hake, cousins of the cod, haddock, pollock, and cusk. Maybe two feet long. Sometimes called a whiting.

Leslie went on: "Only hake I knew was corned hake, but when I was in high school we played a game at Bucksport, and the restaurant there had hake chowder."

"Hake chowder is good," said Don. "As lief have that as haddock."

"Not really," said Chummy. "Nothing beats haddock in a soup. But fresh hake is close enough."

"One time when I was a boy," said Leon, "my brother and I chanced on a shoal of hake that had beached out. Quirk of the tide, I guess. Some were still flopping. We hove them in a wheelbarrow and pushed them up the beach and got them to the house. We dressed them and put the salt to them, and had four barrels of salt-slacked hake. Good quality. We sold them to the summercaters for 10 cents a fish. But a funny thing was, we didn't get any repeats. Nobody came back for more."

"Didn't have a taste for them?" asked Chummy.

"More likely, didn't know how to cook the things. One woman said she fried them like smelts. But we got rid of all we salted and we both bought bicycles."

I offered, "Odd-looking fish." Which is so.

A hake has some kind of fins that trail along, and they have an odd-shaped mouth. "Hakemouth" has a special meaning with the lobster catchers. Lobster traps have a "funnel eye," which used to be shaped from wood but is now metal. Called a funny-eye, the small hoop is an opening in the netting that leads the lobster into the "bedroom." Most funny-eyes are circular, but now and then a lobsterman flattens the circle on the bottom so it has the shape of a hake's mouth.

Here and there a lobsterman who uses hakemouth funny-eyes will be nicknamed Hakemouth. Those who use hakemouths say they entice lobsters better.

"Come aboard and have a hake," my friend had said.

Seems as if a lot of folks would like to.

Chummy said, "Salt-pork scraps, boiled potato, creamed corned hake, and hot sal'ratus biscuits - make me a boy again, just for tonight!"

"Amen!" replied the righteous.

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