Nothing connects us like food. What we eat and how we celebrate our bounty showcases our common roots and spans all lifestyles. Which got us thinking: What are the hallmarks of Chesapeake cuisine?
First, the obvious: seafood. The Smithsonian Environmental Research Center in Edgewater, Md. has oyster middens on property that date back 3,000 years—that’s a longtime love of bivalves! And the Chesapeake’s blue crabs are ubiquitous in these parts, from picnic tables to T-shirts to car decals.
Then, there’s flavor. South Louisiana’s traditional Cajun base for gumbo, jambalaya, étouffée and what-have-you is the Holy Trinity—onion, green bell pepper and celery. In France it’s a mirepoix of onion, carrot, and celery. Here in Chesapeake Country, our standby Old Bay seasoning consists of celery salt, bay leaf, dry mustard and other spices, and it’s used on and in everything from crab cakes to ice cream. (Thank the Charmery in Baltimore for the latter; Old Bay Caramel is one of its regular flavors.)
But the essence of Chesapeake cuisine is much more than the obvious. It’s heirloom produce, grown in the rich loam surrounding our waterways.
It’s smoked Virginia ham refined through more than two centuries of family gatherings. It’s the wild game that roams the land (yes, even muskrat). It’s cooking traditions passed down from pre-Revolution English gentry; dishes created by enslaved Africans on tobacco plantations; and seasonings brought by immigrants and travelers to our shores. It’s Rye whiskey made with 18th century distilling methods at George Washington’s Mount Vernon, and sassafras-finished gin à la Grey Wolf Craft Distillery in St. Michaels.
In short, our culinary heritage is rich, diverse and complicated. Hence this issue, delving into some of the tastiest aspects of Chesapeake Bay food and drink.
Here’s the menu: Tasting the Bay showcases key elements in regional cuisine; all things particular to, or at their best (we think) in the Bay region. Elsewhere, we profile a fantastic Baltimore blogger who showcases her passion for history by researching and recreating old recipes. For explorers, we have food experiences that can centerpiece a weekend away, along with a platter of iconic Maryland crab houses worth road tripping. And because every meal needs something to wash it down, we spotlight how local breweries approach the art of craft beer, inside and out.
This issue is a way to whet your appetite for the bounty that the Bay provides. Whatever your port of call and preferences, we hope this entices you to dig in. Happy eating!
From the Kitchen
Susan Moynihan, Special Edition Editor
Susan Moynihan is a longtime travel editor whose stories have taken her to 50+ countries and counting. An avid lover of food, ukuleles and roadtrips, she has written for outlets including USA Today and Architectural Digest, and is the author of 100 Things to Do in Annapolis and the Eastern Shore Before You Die.
Kristina Gaddy, Contributing Writer
Kristina Gaddy writes about history and culture. Her nonfiction book Flowers in the Gutter came out in January.
Patrick Loughrey, Contributing Writer
Originally from Ohio, Patrick Loughrey lives in Maryland as a chef, graphic designer, and advocate for sustainable culinary practices. He’s also Production Manager for Chesapeake Bay Magazine.