Recipes From the Pages of History

Kara Mae Harris Explores Maryland’s Past Through Cooking

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Kara Mae Harris runs the Old Line Plate blog, where she makes and writes about Maryland recipes and history. She may write about the person behind the recipe, the history of the dish or even a specific ingredient. Old Line Plate is also Harris’ database where she has entered about 50,000 Maryland recipes, along with information about the people and places they are connected to.

Harris got into food history when she found some recipes, such as Maryland White Potato Pie and Maryland Baked Liver, in the South Heritage Cookbook Library. She wanted to try these recipes so she started making them.

Harris enjoys Maryland food history and has lived in Maryland all her life. Learning about food’s connections to different aspects of Maryland’s history had given Harris a different perspective. She hopes to help keep some of these culinary traditions alive by bringing them to the attention of other Marylanders.

One recipe and recipe history that Harris finds fascinating is the Southern Maryland Stuffed Ham, a recipe she shares on her blog. The dish was invented by people who were enslaved in St. Mary’s County but became popular with everyone. The ham is unique but also a labor-intensive process to make.

In addition to her blog, Harris has also written cookbooks. She wants her cookbooks to tell stories, instead of just having lists of ingredients and instructions. She loves bringing the visual aspects of food and history to people. So for Harris, creating books allows her to connect with people in many ways.

Harris has written “Old Line Plate: Stories & Recipes from Maryland.” Her upcoming cookbook, “Festive Maryland Recipes,” will be released this fall.

“Festive Maryland Recipes” is a book of recipes that Marylanders have used to celebrate different holidays, as well as the stories behind them. There are essays about each of the dishes and the various communities they represent. Harris had a recipe developer, Rachel Rappaport, adapt old recipes into versions that readers of the book can make at home. Some of the recipes are fairly unique like Stuffed Ham and White Potato Pie. Others are recipes eaten elsewhere but brought to Maryland by different groups who have lived here. Unlike Harris’ last book, this is new material that is not available on her Old Line Plate blog. A professional designer, Sara Tomko, did the layout for “Festive Maryland Recipes.” Harris’ friend, Ben Claassen, drew illustrations of the food.

Her tip for anyone interested in creating their own cookbook would be to make sure that they are either a skilled recipe developer or find one to work with.

Here are several seasonal recipes that Harris provided.

oyster stew
Oyster stew (Courtesy of Kara Mae Harris)

Oyster Stew

Ingredients:

  • 1 pint oysters
  • 4 slices bacon
  • 2 cups half-and-half or milk, scalded
  • Celery, diced
  • Onion, diced
  • Seasoning of choice: Paprika, seafood seasoning, etc.
  • Worcestershire sauce
  • 1-2 tablespoons flour

1. Cook oysters in their own liquor until edges curl.

2. Strain oysters, and combine the liquor with milk on stove. Heat the milk to scald, but do not boil.

3. Cook bacon until crispy, reserving 1-2 tablespoons of the grease, if desired.

4. Saute celery and onions in bacon grease or butter in soup pot until fragrant and softened. Sprinkle flour over and stir in; add the milk and continue to simmer but do not boil. Stir in seasonings and oysters.

5. Ladle into bowls and garnish with chopped bacon, oyster crackers or toasted bread, seafood seasoning or paprika.

Coconut sweet potato pie
Coconut sweet potato pie (Courtesy of Kara Mae Harris)

Coconut Sweet Potato Pie

Ingredients:

  • 3 cups (about 1.5 lbs) sweet potatoes, preferably White Hayman, cooked and mashed
  • 1 cup flaked coconut
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ½ teaspoon nutmeg
  • ½ teaspoon ginger
  • ¾ cup milk
  • ¾ cup white sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 tablespoons margarine
  • 1 9-inch unbaked deep dish pie shell (traditional or graham cracker)

1. Heat oven to 350 degrees F.

2. Mash sweet potato flesh. For a smoother pie, strain through a sieve.

3. Add all other ingredients and beat on high speed until mixed.

4. Pour mixture into pie shell, and bake for 50 to 55 minutes.

5. Serve topped with whipped cream and additional coconut.

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