Hungry For History

I just love it when local history pops up before me. Who knew that since 2008 Smith Island Cake has been Maryland’s official state dessert? And today, this cake is being awarded a grant from the William G. Pomeroy Foundation through the Hungry for History Program that will fund a historic sign marker for it.

The Hungry for History Program recognizes food history by telling the story of local and regional food specialties and commemorates significant dishes that have played a role in defining American culture and forging community identity. To qualify for the grant, the authentic food must be at least 50 years old. Family letters from Mrs. Mary Ada Marshall’s grandmothers and mothers shared memories of them baking Smith Island Cakes which clearly placed the cake’s history well beyond the 50-year-old mark.

The Marker has not yet been created but is scheduled to be erected in front of the Smith Island Cultural Center.
Smith Island Cake is a confection that consists of many (usually between eight to twelve) thin layers of cake separated by an equal number of layers of sweet icing. The traditional cake is yellow with chocolate icing, but many bakers have branched out and now specialize in such flavors as banana, orange, and coconut.

For those who may not be familiar with Smith Island, it is about 50 miles away from our eastern shore beach resort town of Ocean City, Maryland. Native Americans have occupied the island for more than 12,000 years. The island bears the name of Captain John Smith, an explorer who visited it in 1608. The surnames indicate a few Scottish and Irish settlers soon followed the settlers that arrived in Maryland and Virginia in the 17th century.

About 200 people live on the three-by-five-mile island chain, which is divided into three villages: Tylerton, Rhodes Point, and Ewell–the largest of the three villages. Locals and their supplies travel on the three passenger ferries (two serving Ewell and Rhodes Point, and one Tylerton).

Few people realize that Smith Island’s first permanent residents were farmers because it is so closely linked to maritime activities like crabbing and oystering. Following the Civil War, islanders turned to the sea to restructure their economy in response to increasing sea and wildfowl demand at a time when erosion and rising water levels made farming more challenging.

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