How wonderfully delighted the early Maryland colonists must have felt about the waters teeming with fish and seafood, cornucopia of produce and bounteous forests full of game and game birds! Not only did they contribute to a healthy, hearty population, but also allowed the people to become wealthy — paying off their passage debts and being able to import luxury goods from Europe and the Caribbean.
The colonists had left a feudal system that only allowed the highest ranking aristocratic landowners to hunt and fish on the land. Their farmlands were scarred and battered by centuries of warfare between principalities and religious orders. Private ownership of land was a legal status in flux.
And so, Maryland, her citizens and visitors thrived. Throughout the centuries, luminaries as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, later Abraham Lincoln, savored Chesapeake Bay seafood and chicken.
As travel and distribution eased in the 20th century, the Duchess of Windsor — Baltimore’s own Bessie Wallis Warfield — served classic delicacies to the British and French aristocracy. Her cookbook, Some Favorite Southern Recipes of The Duchess of Windsor, is one of my favorites. The B & O Railroad brought prized oysters, fish, tomatoes, corn, peaches, ‘loupes and more, past the Alleghenies and through the Plains.
Perhaps a harbinger of today’s celebrations was another favorite cookbook of mine, My Favorite Maryland Recipes by Mrs. (Helen Avalynne) Tawes, the late governor’s wife — herself born and raised on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.
To kick off the 10th Buy Local Challenge — for all of us to eat at least one Maryland grown/produced food each day — Governor Larry Hogan hosted the Buy Local Cookout on the front lawn of Government House (the Governor’s mansion). It’s a casual event with a fun, live band playing . . . by invitation only. I was so happy to be invited! Check out the link for years’ worth of special Maryland-centric recipes.
Nobody ever said agriculture and aquaculture is an easy thing. The state’s bumper crops tend to come in the 3rd week of July, which tends to be brutal, weather-wise.
The cookout features winning chefs, culinary students, farmers, fishermen and producers throughout the state, who competed with recipes incorporating Maryland’s food treasures. Additionally, Maryland’s First Lady, Yumi Hogan, also included Spicy BBQ Chicken in the feast. She’s a professional artist and many would say, an artist with food!
This year was very interesting: lots of new faces, new food concepts, new ingredients added to the traditional favorite flavors. Also, for many contestants, a great deal of thought and attention was paid to presentation, disposable but elegant cutlery and plating.
It was terrific to see the young folks of Annapolis High School ProStart Culinary Team serving “Eastern Shore Caviar”: deviled eggs with gourmet jumbo lump crabmeat, Old Bay (the Baltimore-invented seasoning) and local tomatoes. The prepared dishes, served to hundreds in the almost hundred-degree heat, were as attractive as the eager students.
I wasn’t aware some ingredients were even available in the Old Line State. Ocean City day boat scallops caught by Capt. Derek Hoy of the fishing vessel “Second to None” and prepared by Chef David Wells of Evolution Craft Brewing Company – Public House in Wicomico County should make people demand more and more of this fresh, light protein.
Concerns about sustainability have led thinking people to investigate what is commonly called “trash fish”: by-products from more well-known fishing catches. I must admit, I had never heard of people eating Chesapeake Bay Puffer fish! They blow up and look so weird. Yet, in the right hands, it’s delicate, yet meaty. This should immediately become more popular, I say. Chef Kurt Peter of Annapolis’ Azure/Westin Annapolis made it into enjoyable fish tacos.
Speaking of sustainability and other growing issues, our sister state to the south introduced blue catfish into rivers in the 1970s, which quickly became an invasive species. I learned at the cookout that to keep the catfish under control, we should be hauling about 50 million out every year. Currently, we take out about 2. Clearly, blue catfish should be made available to all of our institutions, food banks, etc. for a fresh, local source of protein. Fried Wild Blue Cat Cakes are light and delicious! I could also see them treated like coddies — mixed with mashed potatoes before the fry job.
Here’s another food I didn’t normally associate with Maryland: rabbit. Chef Keshav Poudel from the University of Maryland Eastern Shore at the Universities at Shady Grove created the exotic and good Tandoori Style Rabbit. The mild farm-raised meat was treated to classic Indian spices and vegetable-yogurt garnish.
The young chef from Allegheny County, Jes Clay, prepared something modern for vegetarians, the health conscious and seekers of trendy flavors: Kale Caesar Salad.
On a hot day, you’re gonna want something to drink . . . or a lot to drink. Maryland has several beverage producers and also, farmers growing beverage ingredients. Chef Christie Lathrop has owned a seasonal lemonade and tea business for 21 years. She knows her stuff! Blackberry-Eyed Susan Spritzer hit the spot. So did some of the adult beverages, including Springfield Manor Winery & Distillery’s Caramel Corn Whiskey — a white lightning flavored with caramel. It’s good to see the revival of Maryland’s spirits industry, which was booming before Prohibition.
In a verbal take on the “Baltimore Hon”, one of the desserts was “Hon”-ey and Lavender Panna Cotta with Blueberries and Itty Bitty Meringue Cookies. This beautiful sweet was delicately flavored with local lavender and honey. It would be perfect as a decadent breakfast!