by Matt Mattingly, Manager of the National Colonial Farm and Historic Interpretation
On October 20, the National Colonial Farm’s Foodways program revisits one of our favorites: Best of the Bay! If you’re from the Tidewater area you know full well what that means, and you’re probably already salivating. There can be no doubt that what gives our region its culinary identity are those two delectable creatures; the crab and oyster. The great Irish satirist Jonathan Swift once noted that “It was a brave man that first ate an oysters” and thank heaven for that kind of courage! Scalded, broiled, fried, in a stuffing, au naturel, steamed (With champagne, Mmmm!), Rockefeller’d, this bivalve that lives in the muck of the water, filtering an extraordinary amount of…stuff, rises to the pantheon of elite treats when shucked. I don’t want to short change the great Blue Crab, but there is but one fate for it and that way lies in the steamer. Of course, after that it’s GAME ON!
Colonial Marylander’s ate ‘em too and in as many different ways as we do now. But looking at these creatures from not only a culinary point of view but a historic and ecological one as well paints such a clear portrait of how these food traditions began and how they have affected the ecology of the region. These traditions have affected the very ways in which we choose to interact with them and choose to see ourselves as Marylanders.
I used to hate flying out to California to visit family when I was younger because that meant inevitably I had to stop on the way to the airport to pick up a pint of oysters, ice them down in the cooler (They were a bit bulky back then.) so when I arrived in Southern California, I could drive an hour out of the way to give them to Uncle Joe. Ok, I didn’t hate doing it, it was just a pain. I just remember thinking “They do have oysters on the west coast right?” I was too foolish to realize that while they did, they didn’t have our oysters, from our waters. I wasn’t just bringing Uncle Joe oysters, I was bringing him a bit of home, a little bit of his past and those great memories that smell and taste can excite!
As with all our Foodways demonstrations we always seek to combine not only the social and historic aspects of regional dishes but the lingering impact they have on our ability to pass those traditions on to future generations. You can’t talk crabs and oysters without talking about the Bay or the Potomac, or any of the other waterways around. Old family recipes connect us to our past, but the present connects us to our food and neither have much of a future without the other. So if you have the time and the inclination, come on by the kitchen this month and see what we’re preparing and as always… why.
Buttered Crabs – The forefather of crab imperial
Oyster Pye – They loved their pies!
Turtle Soup – MAYBE, we’re still looking for worthy turtles!
Tidewater Crab Cake – There is such a thing!
Recipe cards are available for all Foodways demonstrated menu items. See the Visitor’s Center when you visit the farm!