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What is DelMarVa cuisine?


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So apart from St Mary's county stuffed hams and some good ol' fashioned Maryland blue crab dishes, I'm not very familiar with DelMarVa cuisine. What is it? What are some of the traits that characterize it? Any particular dishes you would consider traditional/iconic DelMarVa? Any food that's unique to Delaware (something I've often wondered)?

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Anything with Chesapeake Bay seafood -- not just the crabs, but the oysters and the rockfish -- or Virginia ham gets pretty close to iconic. Wild duck, when it's in season. (You don't see much Terrapin Maryland anymore, though).

When I think of the local food I think simple, southern-inflected stuff. The grits line is somewhere in between Arlington and Richmond, don't even think of asking for hash browns once you cross it (except at Waffle House). Fish fries, especially in the African American community. Corn, corn bread cole slaw, watermelon. The products of all those orchards that dot Appalachian hillsides, especially the peaches. There's some decent barbecue around, too.

I'm on the pavement

Thinking about the government.

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I can’t really define what DelMarVa cusine is, per se, and I don’t know about Delaware but I can tell you about a few local food traditions in Baltimore.

Right now, it is sour beef and dumplings season. Go to a church dinner and give it a try. An old but fading tradition.

There is Maryland fried chicken but, mostly, there is seafood. Blue crabs prepared in every conceivable way (but never, ever, boiled)—steamed crabs, crabcakes, crab fluffs, crab soup and soft shell crabs, which probably deserve a category all their own. Rockfish—baked, broiled, fried. Oysters—raw, baked, broiled, fried, frittered and in stew. Shrimp – steamed with onions and old bay.

There are dishes that add crab to everything, like Chicken Chesapeake – a chicken breast with crab meat on top, “surf and turf”- steak and a crabcake - is still common in old fashioned restaurants here as is rockfish with crab on top.

Coddies (salt cod and mashed potato cakes) are a very old Baltimore tradition. At one time there were sold on the counter of nearly every corner store in town. They still are but to a lesser extent. Faidley’s in Lexington Market makes a good one and for my money, they also make the best crabcake in town.

Black walnuts are a Maryland tradition—they are in season right now and are all over the ground in many neighborhoods. I’ve seen overflowing baskets of them are at the farmer’s market for the past few weeks.

Silver queen corn in the summer.

And, we can’t forget Berger cookies—a Baltimore tradition since the 1830’s. They can be found at Lexington Market, as well as grocery stores and delis all over town.

Last but not least, with Thanksgiving right around the corner, sauerkraut on the Thanksgiving table is a long standing Baltimore tradition.

I know I’m leaving lots of things out but this is a start.

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Anyone for muskrat? I had it once down in Princess Ann MD, just south of Salisbury where I used to live. It was godawful.

a friend of mine was in town and i had told him about muskrat. we were never able to find out a place that sold it.

what about scrapple?

there was a baltimore sun (?) article a few years ago that went over like 5 baltimore food specialites. . other than muskrat, the only other one i remember is a queen charlotte cake (i think that's the right name).

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I was waiting for someone to say scrapple. That would be my top Delmarva food. Surprisingly, though, a lot of the out-of-the-way islands and hamlets don't have too many specialties that don't involve a box of packaged something or some jello. I had something called "Under the Sea Salad" in Tilghman that involved lime jello, mayonnaise, horseradish and canned pineapple.

Did you eat muskrat at The Washington Hotel in Princess Anne? My old college roommate's parents owned that place, and once ever other year or so, some regional newspaper or magazine would bill it the authentic destination to taste muskrat at its best... which is still pretty awful in my opinion. Greenish, slimy meat and infinite bones. No thanks.

I am also no fan of Maryland Beaten Biscuits. Eat one of those dense, dry flour baseballs and you feel like you've ingested lead fishing weights.

I do like a good, homemade vegetable crab soup.

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Did you eat muskrat at The Washington Hotel in Princess Anne? My old college roommate's parents owned that place, and once ever other year or so, some regional newspaper or magazine would bill it the authentic destination to taste muskrat at its best... which is still pretty awful in my opinion. Greenish, slimy meat and infinite bones. No thanks.

That's the place! Out of the hundreds of restaurants in Princess Anne, you picked the right one! :laugh::wink::laugh:

peak performance is predicated on proper pan preparation...

-- A.B.

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I am also no fan of Maryland Beaten Biscuits. Eat one of those dense, dry flour baseballs and you feel like you've ingested lead fishing weights.

Hmm, maybe you should try DELAWARE beaten biscuits. :wink: My grandmother and great-grandmother made the best. Very light. The secret is to beat them a good while. That was my duty as a child, stand with a clean piece of old broomstick and beat the bejeebus out of the biscuits for 30 minutes. :shock:

I think of beaten biscuits when I think of "DelMarVa" food as my great-grandmother's people were oystermen out of Franklin City, Virginia on the DelMarVa penninsula. Other things that jump out at me are: oysters(duh) in every imaginable manner, chow-chow, sourmilk pancakes, clams(see oysters), flakey biscuits, greens, scrapple..probably more, but I cannot think of them right off.

This is fun, although it would amuse my great-grandmother that the foods she and her friends made is even remotely considered "cuisine".

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Having grown up in Delaware and now living in central MD, When I think of Delmarva, I think more of ingredients rather than cuisine.

As stated above, good seafood. Crab, oyster (I prefer Chincoteague to Chesapeake Bay), rockfish, bluefish, clams.

Great produce in season: Asparagus, tomatoes, cantalope, cucumber, string beans.

Regional favorites: Crab cakes and pit beef in Baltimore, Italian subs in Wilmington.

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Crab, oyster (I prefer Chincoteague to Chesapeake Bay), rockfish, bluefish, clams.

You do know that most Chincoteague oysters are Bay oysters that have been barged south and submerged for a period of time to allow them to develop a briny flavor in the salty ocean water.

Another Delmarva country tradition I am not fond of is adding sugar to all sorts of overcooked vegetables. A pinch in stewed tomatoes I can understand, but lima beans? I like mine simple, not overcooked, with butter, salt and peper.

Maybe this would have been a better forum to post my thread on

Muskrapple.

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  • 2 months later...
I can't help you on the tax-free state, but Chesapeake Bay Cooking is one of my staples...

I just picked up another book by the same author, John Shields, a Baltimore native, "The Chesapeake Bay Cookbook". I haven't seen his other books to compare but this looks very good. I think it would be a good resource for getting an overview of traditional foods and dishes of the area.

"Under the dusty almond trees, ... stalls were set up which sold banana liquor, rolls, blood puddings, chopped fried meat, meat pies, sausage, yucca breads, crullers, buns, corn breads, puff pastes, longanizas, tripes, coconut nougats, rum toddies, along with all sorts of trifles, gewgaws, trinkets, and knickknacks, and cockfights and lottery tickets."

-- Gabriel Garcia Marquez, 1962 "Big Mama's Funeral"

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Of course, the seafood is what I think of when asked about local cuisine...I dream of my aunt's crab cakes and oyster fritters. Has anyone ever had a Smith Island Cake? I am originally from Salisbury, MD, but my father's family is from Deal Island and Smith Island. It's generally an 8 - 10 layer cake made from very thin layers with icing in between each layer. I have seen any number of different icings and toppings used. Here's a link to a recipe.

http://www.smithisland.org/cakerecipe.html

Meg Hudson

Domaine Hudson wine bar & eatery

www.domainehudson.com

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Of course, the seafood is what I think of when asked about local cuisine...I dream of my aunt's crab cakes and oyster fritters. Has anyone ever had a Smith Island Cake? I am originally from Salisbury, MD, but my father's family is from Deal Island and Smith Island. It's generally an  8 - 10 layer cake made from very thin layers with icing in between each layer. I have seen any number of different icings and toppings used. Here's a link to a recipe.

http://www.smithisland.org/cakerecipe.html

Interesting first post, Domaine! The cake reminds of an Austrian/Hungarian cake, Dobos Torte. (The Dobos torte has many thin layers of cake filled with a rich chocolate butter cream. The top cake layer is covered with a crunchy caramel.)

Speaking of cakes from the region and looking through my new cookbook mentioned above, I also got reminded of "Lady Baltimore Cake". A white cake filled and iced with a cooked meringue aumented with dried fruit like raisins and/or figs, walnuts or pecans, and cognac.

The author has another recipe that I hadn't heard of called "Lord Baltimore Cake". The story told along side is that as the "Lady Baltimore Cake" used all egg whites, another recipe was developed for a yellow cake that uses the yolks. The recipe in that book uses a cooked meringue frosting and filling that has macaroon crumbs, black walnuts, almonds, candied cherries, lemon juice and sherry.

The history of the cake is mentioned here. From that and other things I've read I think the cake originated in Charleston, SC and was then popularized throughout the South.

Since these cakes are mentioned in the Chesapeake Cookbook I'm wondering if it is or was also popular around Baltimore and the area?

Edited by ludja (log)

"Under the dusty almond trees, ... stalls were set up which sold banana liquor, rolls, blood puddings, chopped fried meat, meat pies, sausage, yucca breads, crullers, buns, corn breads, puff pastes, longanizas, tripes, coconut nougats, rum toddies, along with all sorts of trifles, gewgaws, trinkets, and knickknacks, and cockfights and lottery tickets."

-- Gabriel Garcia Marquez, 1962 "Big Mama's Funeral"

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  • 1 year later...

Nearby in St. Michaels a bakery opened a few years ago specializing in Smith Island cakes (I think they have a bakery further south, too), and they're sublime.

For our wedding, instead of a big fondant-covered, frilly decorated cake, we served 12 Smith Island cakes in seven different flavors. They all but disappeared.

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Other than a list of local ingredients (seafood -- much of which is actually imported from the Gulf or southern Atlantic states, and certain veggies), Delmarva cuisine seems to me to have as much identity as the Mid-Atlantic region does in general, which is to say, not much at all. We do some things well (cream of crab soup, rockfish, etc.), but we are largely an amalgamation of other regions' influences -- maybe some cosmopolitan items in Baltimore and Washington, and bits of Southern/rural cuisine scattered throughout. Let us know what you find, cheesecurds. I'd love to know more.

Bridget Avila

My Blog

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This brings up an important point. Are you looking only at the Delmarva peninsula or Delaware, Maryland and Virginia?

I would think the thread meant the Delmarva Peninsula. Because there are regions of Virginia that are definitely barbecue country, and D.C. doesn't have too much in common with the Eastern Shore, etc.

But whatever, I guess. (Although, even if one is reading it to mean the three states, technically that excludes D.C.)

As for shad roe, that's definitely Delmarva food. Mmmmm.

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