Welcome to “Eating America,” a weekly cross-country culinary road trip. From New Orleans to Nashville to New York City, we explore America’s unique cuisines and hometown favorites through staff interviews, field notes, and delicious recipes. Read on for a chance to win a copy of our new The Complete Cook’s Country TV Show Cookbook.
When you grow up in Maryland, you grow up eating crabs—lots of them.
Test Kitchen Development Manager Brian Runk spent his childhood on the water with his grandparents. He liked to play with tiny minnows he caught with baits of bread, and to go crabbing with his grandmother. His whole family came together on his grandparents’ porch for crab feasts.
“I miss the yellow light and the heat lamps. The boom of lightning and the buzz of big cicadas. The sound of people hammering and cracking crab shells. I learned to do that before I was in kindergarten, how to clean and eat a crab.”
Above: Cook’s Country Maryland Crab Cakes
Seafood is prime on this East Coast state. Skipjacks harvest oyster beds and inspire oyster festivals, where Brian ate them fried, steamed, and raw. He’s nostalgic for rockfish—known as the striped bass anywhere but Maryland—a massive fish his mother stuffed with dill and pickles for Thanksgiving, right alongside the turkey. And don’t forget to put Old Bay seasoning on everything.
Most people recall growing up with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and a cold class of milk. Then again, most people didn’t grow up in Annapolis. Brian’s equivalent of the PBJ?
“Iced tea, sweet as hell, and a white-bread soft crab sandwich, with the legs splayed out the sides like a spider and a tomato right out of the garden.”
Above: Cook’s Country Baltimore Pit Beef
Brian remembers Maryland by the smells of incredible food, like the intoxicating, tangy fragrance of horseradish and grilled pit beef. During his college years he drove the back roads between St. Mary’s County, where he went to school, and Annapolis to visit home. He’d smell the barbecue long before the saw the signs: juicy, rare-pink, paper-thin Pit Beef piled high on rye or a Kaiser roll.
Or Maryland’s prized Silver Queen Corn, a milky sweet corn with tiny kernels. Brian ate it hot or cold, but always fresh, steamed with every meal. Sometimes he could smell it being steamed right from the road.
“It’s like candy, nothing like what they have up here. The corn here is what you’d feed to cows.”
Or the smell of boiling tomatoes, which brings him back to his mother’s kitchen. Tomatoes grow abundantly in Maryland, “by the peck and by the bushel,” so canning is a necessity. Brian’s mother sliced them for dinner every night, with salt and vinegar or just plain, often with chilled cucumbers.
Above: Cook’s Country Smith Island Cake
Maryland will always be Brian’s home—this is a man who once considered getting a tattoo of the Maryland flag—even though he’s spent 15 years in Boston. Brian doesn’t try to replicate Maryland food from New England. After all, it’s a cuisine centered around the climate, the bay seafood, and the produce.
“But I know I’m back when I hear the sounds, see the light, feel the heat, and smell the food.”
Above: Brian (in red) with his son, daughter, brother, and sister (and another brother’s daughters—their dad was out on his boat), at a dock where the Magothy River meets the Chesapeake Bay.
All featured recipes in this post will be free through October 21, 2012.
Last Week’s Contest – The winner of our Regional Favorites: Texan Fare giveaway is Dave, who wrote: “I don’t know if it’s a regional recipe or not, but my mom still makes a molasses cookie recipe she learned by heart at the side of her grandmother, who learned it from her grandmother, who used to sell them to travelers on the stagecoach in the Berkshires. And no, I can’t pass it along—it’s never been written down, just orally handed on to the females in the family as a rite of passage.” Thanks, Dave!
This Week’s Comment Contest Giveaway – What cooking smells bring you back to your childhood?
Let us know in the comments for a chance to win a copy of The Complete Cook’s Country TV Show Cookbook, which includes more than 200 great American recipes like Baltimore Pit Beef and Grilled Corn on the Cob with Chesapeake Bay Butter.