About Regional Flavor
Maryland crab cakes, made with big hunks of lump crab meat, are to ordinary crab cakes what champagne is to grape juice. In addition to a bounty of Chesapeake Bay seafood, local specialties include St. Mary’s County stuffed ham in which peppery greens complement sweet pigmeat.
Maryland Regional Specialties
Few prepared foods vary so dramatically in quality and price as crab cakes. Along the shore of the Chesapeake Bay, it is not uncommon to pay over $20 for one that combines large pieces of lump crab meat and only enough filler to impart a wink of non-crab texture, convey the spice, and frame the meat from which the cake is made. The filling will be so negligible that when you eat one, you may find yourself believing that the sphere on your plate is all crab and nothing but crab, somehow raised to stratospheric succulence by the process of being mounded together and cooked.
In St. Mary's County, stuffed ham is a mainstay of church suppers and firemen's balls from Thanksgiving to Christmas and into spring, and many restaurants serve it in the cool-weather months, at least intermittently. Its seasonal appearance dates back to the days of the autumn hog slaughter when plantation slaves were given the hog's head, which they made more appealing by stuffing it with such late-crop produce as kale, turnip tops, wild watercress, or collards and mustard greens. The harmony of pork and greens was so good that the concept went up the food-status ladder from head to ham. Stuffed ham generally is served cold, in slices that resemble piggy brasciole with alternating ribbons of meat and filling.
Not every state has an official dessert. Named for one of the two inhabited islands in the Chesapeake Bay, Maryland's Smith Island Cake is a 10-layer tour de force of fluffy cake and creamy icing in all the colors of the flavor rainbow. It's well worth trying to eat it on Smith Island, where the locals maintain an accent that dates back to Colonial times, but many seafood restaurants along the Bay now offer it as the right dessert after a crab feast.