Have you heard of Smith Island? Most non-locals can’t pick it out on a map. But almost everyone in Maryland and Virginia and the surrounding areas know the world-famous Smith Island Cake! Some may also recognize the tag lines: “Got Cake?” “A Sweet Tradition,” or “Bring on the Cake!” It’s also the state of Maryland’s official dessert.
Over the years, the delicious Smith Island Cake has slowly gained layers, now up to 8 to 12 layers, plus a few flavor variations. Sample a slice, and you’ll remember it forever. Traditionally, it has layers of yellow cake separated by a delicious chocolate fudge-like icing. The amount of layers varies depending on flavor. Some of these cakes use fresh fruit and are more likely to slide if they overdo the number of layers. Hungry for one? You have a few options. Our favorite is to take the ferry over to Smith Island from Crisfield and go to a restaurant right at the source. Of course, if you have some cooking talent, you can go online, get a recipe and try it yourself. A few varieties can be found on the Somerset County Tourism website found at the end of this story.
As good as the Smith Island Cake is, it’s not the only cake in the county that’s got a reputation to savor. There’s also the Deal Island Cream Devil Cake and Chesapeake Bay crab cakes. The Deal Island Cream Devil Cake is typically reserved for special occasions such as holidays, birthdays, potluck dinners or to make a picnic a notch above. This cake has two to three layers of buttermilk chocolate cake, a delicious frosting, and a few variations. It can range from a sheet cake to a Bundt cake and anything in between. Either way, it’s delicious. The trickiest part, they say, is the icing. That part is so finicky few if any are commercially produced. If you’re feeling adventurous, give it a try.
And then there’s the staple of the Chesapeake Bay — the crab cake! We’ve also held the opinion that it’s too much of a gamble to buy a crab cake more than 25 miles from the bay, so you really can’t beat one from a place actually on the bay with a rich waterman’s history. Recipes are varied, but there are a few hard and fast rules that must be followed. Double-check your crab meat for chunks of shell. Nothing spoils a crab cake like frequent crunch of a stray piece of shell. Next, use just enough of a binder to keep the crab cake together. This isn’t a hush puppy or cornbread exercise, the dominant feature needs to be the crab meat — lots of it and preferably backfin meat.
Nothing beats experiencing the cakes in person. Why not take the ferry from Crisfield to Smith Island and enjoy cakes and rich culture of the area. You can even participate in a baking lesson and make your own cake. Make sure that you eat your meal prior to dessert, and of course, that meal is a Chesapeake Bay Crab Cake! Visit Somerset County, explore their shorelines, check out the museums, meet the people and enjoy.