Official Name: State of Maryland
State Nicknames: The Free State; The Old Line State; America in Miniature
Admission to the US: April 28, 1788 (#7)
Capital: Annapolis (24th largest city)
Other Important Cities: Baltimore (largest); Columbia (2nd largest); Germantown (3rd largest); Frederick (8th largest)
Region: Mid-Atlantic, South, Northeast; South Atlantic (US Census)
RAFT Nations: Crabcake; Clambake; Chestnut; Maple Syrup
Bordered by: The Mason-Dixon Line (north and east); Pennsylvania (north); Delaware and the Atlantic Ocean (east), Virginia and the Potomac River (south and southwest); District of Columbia (southwest); West Virginia (west and southwest)
Official State Foods and Edible Things: blue crab (crustacean); rockfish, aka striped bass (fish); Diamondback terrapin (reptile); Smith Island cake (dessert); milk (drink)
Some Famous & Typical Foods: Chesapeake Bay foods, especially based on blue crab, oyster, clam, shrimp & fish; historically, foods of the Upper South (especially fried chicken, stuffed ham, beaten biscuits & Brunswick stew); cuisines that reflect a broad multicultural landscape closer to Baltimore (Italian, Polish, Ukranian, German, etc) and Washington (Latin American, West African, Southeast Asian, Korean, etc)
This is not my first attempt at a Smith Island cake, the official state dessert of Maryland. I tried it a few years ago, but quickly gave up after destroying the second and third thin layers just by trying to remove them from the cake pans. For anyone who has never tried to make one, it is a challenge. In her book Dishing Up Maryland, Lucie Snodgrass discusses the Smith Island cake in a vignette with innkeeper Susan Evans, a thirteenth-generation Smith Islander who has been making Smith Island cakes like women in her family have for perhaps hundreds of years.
Lore has it that the original families baked [the first Smith Island cake], although it only had four layers at the time. Over the years the height of the cake grew as the women competed against each other to see who could make the most layers. Today, Smith Island Cakes most commonly vary from eight to eleven layers,, depending on who's making it... Assembling and icing the cake can be tricky and takes years of practice, Evans says. She learned to make the cake from her mother, who learned form her mother mother, and so on. "It's an island thing," Evans says, shrugging. "They've always been made, and every woman knows how to make one." [Snodgrass 2010: 273]Instead of using Susan Evans' recipe, I found a very popular printed version of the recipe on the Visit Somerset County website, attributed to Smith Islander Frances Kitching. This is the version I used.
Recipe: Smith Island Cake
For the Smith Island cake, you will need the following ingredients, plus a lot of patience.
* evaporated milk, not the regular kind (don't have enough? just reduce regular milk over a simmer - just below a low boil - stirring constantly, until reduced by about a third)
* baking powder (not pictured - I knew I forgot to include something)
* several eggs
* granulated sugar
* several sticks of butter
* unsweetened cocoa (squares or powdered)
* water (this is an ingredient in the cake batter, and again i forgot to include it)
You will also need several cake pans. Don't have ten of them just sitting around? You will need to reuse the same three or four over and over. Also, Mrs. Kitching's recipe calls for 9-inch cake pans. All I had were 8-inch ones, which suited me fine.
Bake at 350°F for 8 minutes, and let cool a bit. I found that trying to remove it once completely cooled actually made it tear more easily, so I tried to get it out of the pan while it was still warm. You will need a towel for this, of course. And these things tear easily, so you must be slow and deliberative. What I did was take my knife and move it around the edges of the layer (yes, it already has pulled away from the side, but this helps), and slowly and carefully start to work it under the layer. If well greased enough, the layer should eventually, and slowly, fall out. Keep your hand over it at all times to prevent breakage or folding over, and either pile each layer by itself or (if you lack the room to do so) separate them with parchment or wax paper. Please do not stack the steaming layers one on top of each other with nothing in between. You will end up with one big layer of cake.
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And so my culinary tour of my home state is done, and I am more familiar than ever before with some classic Maryland recipes as well as a few that have been added to the state's increasingly varied multicultural landscape. Now I head up north, back across the Mason-Dixon and up to New England again, for an exploration of that other bay state, Massachusetts.
"Crab Cakes". Recipe from the author's family.
Fowora, Simbo. "Jollof Rice". Featured on the episode "Nigerian Dinner" of the show Sara's Secrets (Sara Moulton, host). Food Network, 2006.
Gibbon, Ed. The Congo Cookbook. 1999-2009. Available as a downloadable book from lulu.com and reprinted on the website http://www.congocookbook.com.
Hafner, Dorinda. A Taste of Africa. Ten Speed Press: Berkeley, CA, 1993.
Kitching, Frances. "Smith Island Ten-Layer Cake-Mrs. Kitching's Original Recipe". Reprinted on the "Fun Stuff" page at the website VisitSomerset.com (website for Somerset County, Maryland). 2007-2010 Somerset County Tourism.
Shields, John. Chesapeake Bay Cooking. Broadway Books: New York, NY, 1998
Shields, John. "Foreward". In Dishing Up Maryland by Lucie Snodgrass. Storey Publishing: North Adams, MA, 2010.
Snodgrass, Lucie. Dishing Up Maryland. Storey Publishing: North Adams, MA, 2010.
Walter, Eugene. American Cooking: Southern Style. From the series Foods of the World. Time-Life Publications: New York, NY, 1971
Some information also obtained from Wikipedia's "Maryland" page and other pages, and the Food Timeline State Foods link to "Maryland".