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Maryland Food, fresh caught food, recipes, farm to table food in Maryland

Maryland cakes: Lady Baltimore, Smith Island, and Red Velvet

Smith Island cake

smith-island-cakeOf course, you can't talk about cakes in Maryland without mentioning Smith Island cake, which the General Assembly recognized in 2008 as the state dessert.

There's nothing spectacular about the ingredients. It's just your basic yellow cake. What makes it distinctive is its structure, nine or 10 or more thin layers, all held together with chocolate frosting.

"No, what makes it distinctive is that it comes over on the ferry," Marks interjects. Again, he's found holes in commonly held assumptions.

The cake did not originate on the island, he says, but in New Orleans, where an adaptation of the Austro-Hungarian Dobos torte became known as the Doberge torte in the 1930s. American bakers made a cake that was sturdier than its European forerunner and could therefore be packed and shipped, Marks says.

He notes that a similar cake is a local favorite in northeastern Alabama, and theorizes that the Doberge torte simply took hold there and on Smith Island as tourists and travelers replicated the treat they'd enjoyed in the Big Easy.

Indeed, the earliest reference to Smith Island Cake Marks has found is from 1999, in a cookbook by Frances Kitchings. Her 1981 book, "Mrs. Kitching's Smith Island Cookbook," has no mention of it, he says.

Rainbow cake

So are there any cakes to which the Chesapeake region can truly lay claim to as its own creations?

Well, there might be a couple in Virginia, says CiCi Williamson, author of "The Best of Virginia Farms Cookbook and Tourbook."

"Virginia has the famous Robert E. Lee cake and Martha Washington's Great Cake (like a fruit cake) that she took to General Washington at Valley Forge. It was his favorite," she says.

But as with many aspects of cultural history, records illuminating food origins are often sketchy at best, and any recipe one finds is bound to have an uncredited forebear.

Marks, however, says he does know of one cake almost certainly invented in the bakeries of early 20th century Baltimore. As with red velvet, food coloring was essential to its preparation.

Called a "rainbow cake," it was iced with chocolate but had layers of red, green, yellow, and perhaps other colors underneath.

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