Abalone are definitely one of the most exquisite things to eat from the sea. Their sublime flavor is both buttery and slightly salty and tastes like a cross between a scallop and calamari. But it is even better than that. A big part of the culture of collecting and eating wild abalone, and one of the reasons they taste so good, is that it is damn difficult thing to do. They literally fight you from the moment you find them under the sea until they enter your mouth. Forget that just getting a California red abalone these days is a dangerous act but once you get to shore you have to shell them, trim them, fillet them and then the real work begins: the pounding of the abalone with a mallet. Without pounding the meat is tough and chewy. Afterwards, if done properly, they are soft, firm and slightly chewy.This is where the abalone song comes in.
The lore goes that the Abalone song was first composed in Carmel around 1907 by writer George Sterling and his friends. This was back in the halcyon art colony days of Carmel, when writers and artists would congregate on the beaches to feast and sing about that wondrous snail. The song was so popular its was included by Carl Sandburg in his seminal musical history “The American Songbag” and was featured at the 1939 World’s Fair in San Francisco.
Since pounding can take time, and can be tedious, people would sing this song while they pounded away, making up verses as they went along. The song was supposed to be sung while pounding the abalone, but not at any other time, and verses must be composed only when in high spirits and good company and must end in the word abalone. Although Sterling was credited with writing the initial verses, others soon added their own, including Jack London, Robinson Jeffers and Mary Austin, among many others.
So here it is, at least some of the more popular verses. Many other verses exist (see below) but the tradition is that you make up your own verses as you go to suit the occasion. The song is sung to the tune of “Yankee Doodle Dandy” (included here so you sing along) with the mallet pounding that abalone to keep the beat. Please do be careful while singing the song as many have pounded their abalone into oblivion by getting carried away!
▲ click to hear the music ▲
The Abalone Song
Oh, some think that the Lord is fat,
And some think he is bony,
But as for me, I think that he,
Is like an abalone.
Oh, some drink rain, and some champagne,
And whisky by the pony,
But I will try a dash of rye,
And a hunk of abalone.
The more we take, the more they make,
In deep-sea matrimony,
Race suicide will ne’er betide,
The fertile abalone.
Oh some folks boast of quail on toast,
Because they think it’s tony,
But I’m content to owe my rent,
And live on abalone.
Oh mission point’s a friendly joint,
Where every crab’s a crony,
And true and kind you’ll never find,
The clinging abalone.
He wanders free beside the sea,
Where’er the coast is stony,
He flaps his wings and madly sings,
The plaintive abalone.
We sit around and gaily pound,
And bear no acrimony,
Because our ob – ject is a gob,
Of sizzling abalone.
He hides in caves beneath the waves,
His ancient patrimony,
And so ’tis shown that faith alone,
Reveals the abalone.
I telegraph my better half,
By Morse or by Marconi,
But if the need arise for speed,
I send an abalone.
Some live on hope and some on dope,
And some on alimony,
But our tom cat he lives on fat,
And tender abalone.
Oh some like ham and some like lamb,
And some like macaroni,
But bring me in a pail of gin,
And a tub of abalone.
- Deep-Sea Matrimony: George Sterling (describes Jack London’s role)
- Jack London verses
- Living with Nature website
- Monterey Peninsula Toy Box
- Some more verses written by abalone ecologists: In Memoriam for Mia Tegner (see page 7) (CalCofi report, 2001)