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Official Maryland treatgets an 'aye' from Rob

January 27, 2008 12:16 am

IF IT'S NOT messing with the Chesapeake Bay or the critters that live in it, I don't pay much attention to the Maryland legislature.

But this week, those legislators became my heroes.

They are considering a bill giving the amazing, delectable Smith Island 10-layer cake its due, making the Eastern Shore delicacy Maryland's official dessert.

Nothing has ever made more sense.

It was last summer when I found myself on the island, whose inhabitants have pulled crabs and oysters from the waters of the Chesapeake Bay since the land was settled by English colonists.

There to do a story on a group of local and state educators going through a nature immersion program run by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, I was quite taken with this place where history, family and the water are cornerstones of life for about 300 year-round residents.

And I was even more taken with the layer cakes our group had for dessert on two evenings, courtesy of an amazing cook in the little community of Tylerton.

The culinary coma I went into after biting into the first of the two, a chocolate delight, nearly put me out for the night.

To hear that there are 10 layers of sweet, tangy icing between rounds of moist, yellow cake initially sounds a bit much.

Oh, but no, it's not.

It's like a great chocolate cake times 10, with every bite a soul-satisfying achievement.

Going back for seconds was a true no-brainer.

Like everyone in the room, who gave the cook a standing ovation when she appeared later, I cleaned my plate of every crumb and morsel.

The next night, another one of the chocolate delights arrived, this one with banana added to the equation.

As my stepfather used to say, it was good enough to knock your hat in the creek.

In a unique feature of the training program, we actually visited our cook the following day, interviewing her as part of an assignment in the CBF program to find out about island life.

Like most women on the island, she learned to make the amazing cakes as a young girl at her mother's side, taking care to make the cake layers thin and the icing sweet but not overpowering.

When the Maryland legislators sampled 450 slices of the cake this week, they were told that the cake dates back to the English who settled the island, who favored tortes of similar design.

The thing that makes the Maryland designation important for Smith Island is the fact that traditional fishing and crabbing is hurting there. Some 10 women on the island now make ends meet by selling the well-regarded Smith Island cakes, which can have up to 16 layers and cost $20 to $50.

I'm thrilled to learn that you can make connections with folks on the island and get one of the delights shipped to you.

Mine will be in the mail soon.

If Maryland legislators have any sense at all, by the time I take a bite I'll be eating the state's official dessert.

Rob Hedelt: 540/374-5415

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