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It’s one of the flavors that defines life in the Chesapeake region: Old Bay Seasoning, the blend of herbs and spices that’s been made in Maryland for nearly a century. In some ways, Old Bay is enjoying a renaissance; a Maryland brewery even recently released an ale brewed with the seasoning. But the company behind Old Bay itself, McCormick, is contemplating a move out of Maryland. Kojo explores the link between spice and regional identity – and what Old Bay has contributed to the culinary DNA of the Chesapeake region.
- Spike Gjerde Chef, Woodberry Kitchen (Baltimore, Md)
- Monica Bhide Author of "Modern Spice: Inspired Indian Flavors for the Contemporary Kitchen"; creator of the iSPICE app for the iPhone and the Android
Featured Recipe: Steamed Crabs for 8
by Spike Gjerde/Woodberry Kitchen/Baltimore MD
This recipe calls for Old Bay or a housemade spice equivalent; Spike’s spice recipe is also below.
4 dozen large blue crabs from the Chesapeake Bay
4 bottles of beer + water
Old Bay or your secret recipe to taste
- Pour beer into a crab steamer/large pot with insert.
- Pour enough water in to fill up to right below insert.
- Bring beer and water to a boil.
- Layer in feisty (i.e. live) crabs with Old Bay and crab seasoning.
- Cover, and once steam builds up, cook for 20 minutes. Dump out on a newspaper covered table.
Spike’s crab seasoning:
½ cup sea salt
3 tbsp black pepper corns
2 dried fish peppers
2 tsp mustard seed
2 tbsp dried lovage
Grind everything together in a blender.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. It's Food Wednesday. For many natives of the Chesapeake region, a dash of Old Bay Seasoning can immediately transform any dish into comfort food, from crabs to chicken salad, to salsa. Some have gone so far as to put it in beer and on frozen yogurt. Old Bay, a savory blend of spices and herbs, is 75 years old. And in the time that Maryland has been making it, it's become part of this region's culinary DNA and an export that serves as an ambassador of the Chesapeake in grocery stores across the country.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIBut how do flavors like Old Bay embed themselves into a place's local culture? And what are the spices, seasonings, or flavors that occupy a similar place in the culinary identities of other places around the world? Joining us to discuss that is Monica Bhide. She is a food writer and cookbook author whose works include "Modern Spice: Inspired Indian Flavors for the Contemporary Kitchen." She's also the creator of the iSPICE app for smartphones. She lives here in the Washington area. Monica Bhide, good to see you again.
MS. MONICA BHIDEVery good to see you. Thank you so much for having me.
NNAMDIYou have also now branched out into fiction writing. Tell us about that, please.
BHIDEYes. My darker side is coming out.
NNAMDIYes. I didn't know you had a darker side.
BHIDEIt's a very dark side. The first fiction piece is just out in a book called "Singapore Noir," just released in June.
NNAMDII'm holding it in my hands.
BHIDEAnd dark stories about Singapore, which has, you know, a wonderfully clean reputation, so...
NNAMDIAnd what's your story called?
BHIDEIt's called "Mother."
NNAMDIYou'll find it in the collection "Singapore Noir." Also joining us in studio is Spike Gjerde, chef and owner of the Woodberry Kitchen Restaurant in Baltimore, Md. His other restaurants include Shoo-Fly, Parts & Labour, and Artifact Coffee, all located in Baltimore. Spike, good to see you again.
MR. SPIKE GJERDEGreat to be back with you.
NNAMDIYou're not branching out in fiction, are you?
GJERDENot yet. All my work's still happening in the kitchen.
NNAMDIThank you for the time being, anyway. You too can join this conversation. You can call us at 800-433-8850. Where would you say Old Bay seasoning fits in to the identity of the Chesapeake region? 800-433-8850. You can send email to email@example.com. Shoot us a tweet, @kojoshow, or simply go to our website, kojoshow.org, and join the conversation there. As local legend would have it, it was three-quarters of a century ago that Gustav Brunn, a German Jew who immigrated to Baltimore, opened the Baltimore Spice Company across the street from the city's wholesale fish market.
NNAMDIHe made a blend of spices and herbs, sold it to seafood merchants who came in and out, combination of a red and black pepper, salt, dry mustard, celery seed, ginger, laurel bay leaf, and more. It was originally named Delicious Brand Shrimp and Crab Seasoning. It's now what we call Old Bay Seasoning. How would you say this combination of flavors has come to define, if you will, the flavors of the Chesapeake region, the place where you grew up and where you apply your trade as a chef?
GJERDEAll right. And I guess I'm here as a Baltimore resident and de facto expert on Old Bay...
GJERDE...given the fact that it is so ubiquitous, I think, in our cooking. And I think it's found its place first through our, you know, one of our great Chesapeake Bay's shellfish treasures which is the blue crab. And I think the fact that this particular blend of spices, which was really, I think, it wasn't the original one, but it was the one that somehow found traction and became a culinary powerhouse that it is today.
GJERDEThat was because of the tremendous abundance of seafood, especially blue crabs that we have in the Chesapeake Bay. And for some reason, that particular secret blend of spices and herbs marries perfectly with our blue crab. And from there, I think it was sold alongside of crabs, as it still is today. If you go to -- if you buy live or steamed blue crabs that...
NNAMDIYou want some seasoning on the side with that?
GJERDEExactly. Precisely. Either comes on the crabs, or it comes on the side.
BHIDEWell, you know, there's the secret side to that, right? Like you said, it's the secrets -- their secrets in that seasoning. I was doing some unscientific research on the Internet to see, why is Old Bay so popular? So picked up some things that people said they love about Old Bay. And they said, in addition to all the ingredients that he just described are in there, they said -- the people also add an essence of youthful exuberance.
BHIDEThey add a little magic of the Chesapeake Bay. It's wonderful because it smells like my mother's kitchen in the summer. They're -- almost every other person said they have an extract of some addicting substance. In quotes, name your substance. And it's just magical because it smells like Maryland in the summer.
GJERDEI think that addicting substance may be salt.
BHIDENot the response I got, but OK.
NNAMDIWell, people want to believe it's something very secret, so they make it up as they go along.
NNAMDIMonica, you hang your hat on your fascination with flavors, with spice. Old Bay, however, is not necessarily a flavor that you grew up with. You're Indian by birth, but you grew up in the Middle East. With that in mind, what do you taste when you taste Old Bay?
BHIDEI remember when people would come back from the States, you know, visiting, family and friends would come back. And, you know, they knew my love of spices, and they knew my love of being in the kitchen. This is the seasoning they brought back. So when your producer called and said, oh, it's a Chesapeake Bay seasoning. And I thought, no, no, no, it's an American seasoning. What you talking about? To me, this is America. That's what I grew up. They didn't bring back any of the barbecue sauces or anything. They brought back Old Bay.
NNAMDISo as someone who's been known to prepare their lemonade with a touch of saffron, how do you react when you hear about people putting Old Bay in beer or on ice cream?
BHIDEVery politely. But, you know, my father-in-law -- I was telling your producer this -- he was visiting several years ago. And he likes unusual flavors, and I found him in the kitchen with a frozen slice of watermelon with, you know, seasoned with Old Bay. And I was like, what are you doing? And he said, it tastes wonderful. The salt brings out the sweetness of the watermelon. So to each his own.
NNAMDISee? That's why you have to be polite. But that kind of makes sense, doesn't it, Spike?
GJERDEThe sweet and the salty and the spice?
NNAMDIWell, according to the Grunn (sic) family, Gustav added small amounts of more than half a dozen other spices to the base ingredients of red and black pepper, salt, celery seed, and dry mustard. From a purely culinary perspective, what do you feel makes this combination of herbs and spices work?
BHIDEThat's an interesting question. I really like -- the flavors that I can tell are the celery seeds, the mustard, and the spice, but, you know, and many complicated spice mixes, there's always foundational flavors. These are the foundational flavors, and then they'll add -- I think he adds, like, mace, and he adds a little bit of cinnamon sort of to wake up the sweetness and to wake up sort of the muskiness of the mix. It just works beautifully. It's a great combination.
NNAMDII read that the ginger and the laurel bay leaf have no relation to the main flavors. What do they add to the mix here? Why are they a necessary part of this formula?
GJERDEYou know, for me, Old Bay is a little bit like Coca-Cola. I just...
GJERDEIt's a little bit of a secret. It's a little bit of a mystery about how it all works. But, you know, pity the fool that -- who tries to fake it or separate -- or, you know, or substitute some -- a lot of people have their own -- their favorite blends. But if you say it's Old Bay, and it's not Old Bay, you're going to get called out. There is something about that.
GJERDEAgain, I -- I'm a little bit in the dark about how it actually works. But it's unrepeatable.
BHIDEIt just works.
NNAMDILet's ask our listeners. Are you a frequent user of Old Bay? What are your favorite recipes that include it? Call us at 800-433-8850. Or send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Shoot us a tweet, @kojoshow. How would you compare this flavor's profile and usefulness of something like Old Bay to, say, Tabasco Sauce?
BHIDEI think somebody told me that Old Bay was the sriracha of the East. So you could call it the Tabasco of the East if you like -- of the East Coast.
BHIDEBut I think it works very similar. I like the texture of this -- the mix more than I like the sauce. Like, I don't -- I'm not a big Tabasco fan.
NNAMDINor am I.
BHIDESo I actually really like the saltiness. And one of the things I like about Old Bay is that a little goes a long way. You don't have to use a lot although people do use it a lot. You just need a little bit to sort of perk up your dish if you're going...
NNAMDIHow's it compare to Tabasco for you, Spike?
GJERDEYeah. Tabasco, I think, is a distinctive flavor of the -- of Louisiana. I think Old Bay is a distinctive flavor. Again, it's definitely grown beyond our Chesapeake Bay home here. But it's -- to me, it's uniquely, I think, redolent of the bay. I think it's a product of an incredible, you know, combination of factors that was -- Baltimore as a center for trade, I think that made this thing possible. Jewish German immigrants, among many others, who contributed to our culinary traditions. And then you have the, again, the seafood that made it, you know, gave it its start. I think it's just -- it's unique. It could have only happened in Baltimore, I think, is why I love it so much.
NNAMDIWe're talking with Spike Gjerde. He's the chef and owner of the Woodberry Kitchen Restaurant in Baltimore, Md. His other restaurants include Shoo-Fly, Parts & Labor, and Artifact Coffee, all located in Baltimore. Also joining us in studio is Monica Bhide, food writer, cookbook author. Her works include "Modern Spice: Inspired Indian Flavors for the Contemporary Kitchen." She's also the creator of the iSPICE app for smartphones.
NNAMDIYou too can join the conversation. Give us a call, 800-433-8850. What's the weirdest thing you've ever combined Old Bay Seasoning with? And tell us how it tasted, 800-433-8850. Spike, in some sense, Old Bay has become a culinary mascot for the region. But a big part of what you try to do at Woodberry Kitchen is reconnect people with pieces of the region's culinary past. Part of the region's identity that they might not even know about. Why is that mission such a personal thing for you?
GJERDEI think because I came to feel that we've left agriculture out of our food equation for too long. And as I saw the struggles that some of our region's farmers were going through and people that were really focused on growing food for us and not for animals or for industrial uses, I felt like they needed every bit of support that we could possibly lend them, so connecting farmers. Then we started connecting with, you know, products that hadn't been farmed in a while. And then we started finding things like fish pepper and mustard seed, which can grow very well here. And...
NNAMDIWe'll talk about fish pepper in a minute.
GJERDEAll right. And I think that's -- you know, a true taste of place comes not only from tradition but also from what grows in that place. And I think when you taste something that was actually grown here -- that's why I think, you know, a Chesapeake crab cake should really be made with Chesapeake Bay crab for the real taste of place.
NNAMDIWe've talked in the past about how Chesapeake regional cooking in many ways was one of the first Creolized cuisines. At what point do you feel that this part of the region's identity, at least in terms of reputation, faded?
GJERDEOh, that's a great question. I think when we talk about Creolized cuisine, we're talking about the interweaving of disparate strands of -- or traditions. In this case -- in the case of the Mid-Atlantic here, we're talking about Anglo-European, Native American, and Afro and Afro-Caribbean traditions, ingredients, cooking techniques all coming together to create something that was truly new and one of the first kind of Creole cuisines in this -- on this continent. And each had important and lasting contributions to what we, you know, what we still eat in this area.
GJERDEI think where it started to fade was -- well, the fact that it's faded I think is because it happened so early on in our culinary history. And a lot of the other traditions that we look back on fondly and draw from are much more recent. You know, when you talk about Old Bay celebrating 75 years, that's an amazing thing. But we're talking about traditions -- or a culinary history that really goes back 400 years. And I think a lot of those threads have been broken. That's why it's so much fun to go back and see. And obviously when you do that, you're actually you're going back to a time when you really were truly connected to the land.
NNAMDIWell, you don't only go back and see. You use ingredients, flavors, to try to bring that identity back into people's consciousness. Talk about that.
GJERDEYes. Well, you know, again, it is what we -- it's creating cuisine from what's at hand. And I think, you know, the great cuisines of the world have generally been a product of what was available, you know, not always the most luxurious or exotic, but things that were available to people to create their everyday meals from. And I think that's -- a big part of our effort here is to kind of recreate that process in the Mid-Atlantic with what turns out to be an incredibly diverse and vibrant, you know, agricultural base.
GJERDEAnd so when we -- and also going back to a history where we growing our own grain, and we were growing many of the things that seasoned our food, including fish pepper and mustard seed. The Mid-Atlantic or -- was also a source for brine well salt production. And so we've recently connected with a woman who is making sea salt from a brine well in West Virginia, so we're actually seasoning all of our food now with local salt, which was something I really thought would never be possible.
NNAMDIWell, we asked the listeners what they like to use Old Bay with. And we got some responses. Here's Daniel in Bunker Hill, W.Va. Daniel, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
DANIELYeah. Once you said that, I just kind of -- I always -- every time I use Old Bay, it's always with my scrambled eggs. I always like spicier scrambled eggs...
DANIEL...which it's kind of weird with the morning. I guess a lot of people probably wouldn't like a lot of spice in the morning. But I always -- I kind of take Old Bay and -- not Old Bay but scrambled eggs into, like, a lunchtime thing. And I also like my scrambled eggs and Old Bay with potatoes, like a tortilla espanola. Going back to the Creole thing, I always like -- I don't know. Yeah, I've -- it's like a kitchen sink with a little bit of everything.
NNAMDIAnd you say you like to do that in the morning? Or you have that meal at any time?
DANIELI'm kind of a anytime thing for scrambled eggs. I've always liked scrambled eggs growing up, but I'll eat them in -- for lunch or in the evening.
NNAMDIBut always with Old Bay?
NNAMDIOkay. Thank you very much for your testimonial, Daniel.
DANIELAll right. Thank you.
NNAMDIWe move on to Moira in Columbia, Md. Moira, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
MOIRAOh, hi. Thanks, Kojo. First off, I love your show. And I also love Woodberry Kitchen when I'm fortunate enough to eat there. So thanks for -- to both of you for your professions. I'm...
MOIRAI'm not any kind of culinary expert around the world. That's for sure. But I do have five children that have grown up going to their grandparents on the Eastern shore in Kent Island and doing some crabbing and spending a lot of time around seafood. So they are all addicted to Old Bay on everything, like your other caller, on eggs in the morning, but also they put it on their popcorn. And they put it in their mac and cheese. So it's a staple around our house. And I think it's their connection with the grandparents and that hominess of crabbing and the comfort food.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call. We're going to take a short break. When we come back, we'll take more of your calls at 800-433-8850. Are there other spices, seasonings or flavors that you feel are attached to a place's identity the way that Old Bay is attached to the Chesapeake? Give us a call. Tell us what you think they are, 800-433-8850. Or you can go to our website, kojoshow.org. Ask a question or make a comment there. It's Food Wednesday. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. It's Food Wednesday. And Monica Bhide is here. She's a food writer and cookbook author whose works include "Modern Spice: Inspired Indian Flavors for the Contemporary Kitchen." Monica's also the creator of the iSPICE app for smartphones. She's here to talk about Old Bay Seasoning with Spike Gjerde, chef and owner of the Woodberry Kitchen Restaurant in Baltimore, Md.
NNAMDIOther restaurants include Shoo-Fly, Parts & Labor, and Artifact Coffee, all located in Baltimore. We're taking your calls at 800-433-8850. Monica, Old Bay seems to be available in more grocery stores and in more states than ever before. What fascinates you most about how spices and flavors travel from one region to another? In some ways, this is the story of your life. Spices and flavors from all over the world are now more accessible to consumers in the United States than they ever were before.
BHIDEAbsolutely. I mean, if you look at it, you know, think about what people eat most, say, in Great Britain. It's curry. I mean, they started curry powder.
BHIDESo that's their identity. It's not really anything that was regional or grew there or any of those thing. It's something that got transported. And the spice trade has done that. So I was reading up, before I came on the show, on what makes things travel and how things sort of get incorporated in cultures and become theirs. And there's a funny story about when they were unearthing the body of Ramses in Egypt.
BHIDEThey found black pepper stuffed up his nose and in his intestines. This is long before the trade with India was ever established because black pepper was used to preserve and was great for embalming bodies. So that became sort of part of their culture and who they were, even though the ingredient was not from there. And there's this whole theory about a Tunisian doctor who figured out that ginger was really good for the male libido. So there was Viagra -- you know, before Viagra, there was ginger. And it got incorporated in the recipes. There are so many reasons why these things get incorporated, not necessarily because they're from there.
NNAMDII was wondering why you were talking about Viagra when I first walked into the room today. Now I understand the connection. Have you ever been surprised to see a particular spice or ingredient migrate across regions or countries?
BHIDEDefinitely. I think, you know, when I was growing up, I would definitely say curry powder actually. Because when I was growing up, I thought it was an Indian thing.
BHIDEI thought tea was an Indian thing. Who knew that the British were the people who introduced the tea to India? I did not know that.
BHIDEI thought that's who we were. That's what we grew up with.
NNAMDIAnd that's why, of course, the country that is now known as Sri Lanka became so important because that's where they grew the tea. Here is Tom in Kensington, Md. Tom, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
TOMHi, Kojo. Thanks for taking my call. My wife grew up in Louisiana through the second grade, and she and her Cajun cousins introduced our family to Tony Chachere's, which is a spice similar to Old Bay. It's got more of a kick and not without the celery flavoring. But it is fantastic anyway that you would use Old Bay, on seafood or on French fries or scrambled eggs. I put it on pizza. I mean, and it's available throughout much of the country. But I just wanted to...
NNAMDIWhat's it called?
TOMIt's called -- we call it Tony's, but it's -- the last name is C-A-C-H-E-R-E-S, (sic) I believe, Chachere's.
NNAMDIOK. And where do you get it, in Louisiana?
TOMWell, it's from Louisiana originally, but you can buy it now in grocery...
NNAMDIYou familiar with it at all, Spike?
GJERDEI think I've seen it on the shelves, yeah, down there.
NNAMDIOK. And you think it's comparable to Old Bay, huh?
TOMWell, I like it better because I'm not a celery person. But I -- but my kids are hooked on Old Bay. They really associate it with their Maryland upbringing. So they're both great.
NNAMDIOK. OK. Thank you very much for your call. We move on to Kyle in Boonsboro, Md. Kyle, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
KYLEHi, Kojo. How are you?
KYLEAll right. I just want to say I love your show.
KYLEAnd, well, my favorite thing to use Old Bay in is Bloody Marys.
KYLENow I'm not a big drinker, but when, you know, you go to different states, everyone has their own regional theme for their Bloody Mary.
KYLEAnd so traveling down to Florida or Ohio or anywhere in the region, I started to learn that I should probably just bring my own tin of Old Bay if I want a Bloody Mary done the Maryland way.
NNAMDIOh, because you can't get it in the part of Florida that you go to?
KYLENo, you -- they don't sell it there. And I have never been able to get a tin in Ohio or any of the other states that I've been in. It's, you know, strictly like a Delmarva thing.
NNAMDISo you have to take it there yourself?
KYLEI enjoy bringing it there myself, yes.
NNAMDIOK. Thank you very much for your call. Spike, there's talk that McCormick, the company that makes Old Bay, may soon be moving out of Maryland. What do you feel Maryland would lose if that happened, not just in terms of dollars and cents and jobs but also from an emotional, cultural sense?
GJERDEYeah. I've heard about that. And it is -- it does -- it would be sad, I think, to lose the production of Old Bay. I'm not actually sure where it's made. I think it's still made in Maryland.
GJERDEMcCormick is obviously still based in Maryland. McCormick is the big spice company that eventually ended up with Old Bay. It actually -- I think Mr. Brunn was actually an employee of McCormick before he started his own...
BHIDEMm hmm. Before he started...
NNAMDIYes. For a brief while, yes.
GJERDEYes. And so it would be a loss in, I think, that sense of connection we have, the place that's so important to me. And I think a lot of people here, I think, would be -- it would change a little bit. But it is -- you know, an ineluctable force, I think. And I think -- I sometimes think that Old Bay will -- might outlive the crabs in the Chesapeake Bay. And we'll still have the flavor of Old Bay long after the blue crab is gone.
NNAMDIWell, Old Bay might be in the Baltimore people's DNA. Do you think people would feel differently about Old Bay if McCormick were outside the state? Because National Bohemian Beer is brewed in Pennsylvania, and people still treat it like it's a mascot for the city of Baltimore.
GJERDERight. There are a number of examples of those kind of things. I think about the -- well, I'm not going to -- but in the case of Old Bay, I think right now the connection is so well established that I doubt that we would really lose -- it would be more of the emotional side that a few of us might sense. But I think it's not going away any time soon.
NNAMDIThis Florida thing is a bit mystifying because, when you conducted your research, Monica, you found that Old Bay is most used where?
BHIDESo I was reading an article that came out in The Washington Post. Granted, it's a few years old. Jane Black, I believe, was the author. And they were saying Old Bay -- most of the sales are L.A. and Chicago. So this is what I was telling you. I don't think the people there would notice if the headquarters moved from Baltimore to, I think, Northern Virginia...
NNAMDIFrom -- to anyplace...
BHIDE...or wherever I read they're thinking of. But...
NNAMDISo let's get back to this Florida problem again with Elizabeth. Elizabeth in Bethesda, Md. Elizabeth, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ELIZABETHHow you doing, Kojo? Yeah, I was making my daughter -- Pat is a third generation Marylander. She has been eating Old Bay since practically since a baby. She has this at college in Florida. And that was one of the things she made sure she packed when she first went there. She has me mail it to her. And she puts it on everything, peanut butter sandwiches, yogurt. I actually would caution people not to do that, but (unintelligible) yogurt.
ELIZABETHBut she -- one of the things that she thought of that's actually not bad -- when she brews coffee, she puts it in coffee.
NNAMDIWell, it might be an easier question to answer. Can you tell us a few things she does not put Old Bay in?
ELIZABETH(unintelligible) I mean, the kid puts it on everything. And she's a great advertisement for it. She wants -- now her college roommates want it. I mean, I think the Old Bay people should be paying her.
NNAMDIAnd she's still lives in Florida?
ELIZABETHAnd she goes to college in Florida.
NNAMDIOh, she goes to college in Florida and takes it down there. Somebody needs to make a phone call to Florida.
ELIZABETH(unintelligible) And I mail care packages of Old Bay to her.
NNAMDIGood grief. Thank you very much for your call. Speaking of spices and traveling, here is Mabud (sp?) in Silver Spring, Md. Mabud, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
MABUDHi, Kojo. How are you guys doing today?
MABUDGood. Good. I just had a quick comment-slash-question thingy. I'm personally very, very intrigued by the idea of discovering more about the history of the world through the spice trade. I mean, if we look at, like, the Dark Ages, for instance, they weren't really so dark through the lens of trade when it comes to spices. So I wonder what other kinds of things can we learn about the history of world migration patterns, of people and such through the lens of spices in the trade industry in the world.
BHIDEThere's some excellent books actually that you can look at. One of the books is called "Spice: The Temptation." That's where I got my little ginger fact about male libido. Very interesting. He talks about spices through the eyes of, you know, they were used as aphrodisiacs. They were used in trade. They were used as sort of a way to connect with the afterlife and how they sort of traveled the world. Another wonderful book is called, I believe, "Cumin, Coffee, and Caravans" -- something like that, "Cumin and Caravans." It's about the Jewish view of some of this trade.
BHIDEAnd there's another one called "A Taste of Paradise" about coffee, wine, and spices and what effect they had on people and why people went in search of all of these things. Like, why was, you know, Columbus out looking for this? What was the reason? Yes, it made your food taste better. But there were many, many, many reasons before that. And some of it has to do with this mystical magical value that people think spices brings to them.
BHIDEYou know, if they were told, for instance, that saffron was better at curing depression than any medication, you know that they would go and hunt down and find ways to bring saffron back. Black pepper not only improve the taste of foods, but it also masked the smell of a lot of the meats and things that they were eating. And it was supposed to be really good for digestion.
BHIDEAnd it was supposed to be very good for, of course, the libido. There we are again. And so they would bring this back. And black pepper at one time was selling for more money than gold. You know, this is way back when. So these books will give you a really good insight into why it started and then why the trade stopped. Like, what happened to the spice route? Why did it sort of start to die down?
NNAMDIThank you very much for you call, Mabud. The story of the Clipper Mill, the place where the Woodberry Kitchen is located in Baltimore, is one about finding a new purpose and pride in a place that was left behind. Is it not, Spike?
GJERDEYeah, I think that's very accurate.
NNAMDITell us about that.
GJERDEWe -- Woodberry's located in one of the great mills of Baltimore. It's called Clipper Mill. And it's home to not only Woodberry Kitchen but a number of residents. We have a great number of craftspeople and artisans that also work there. And there are some offices. It's just an amazing reuse of one of great industrial buildings that, as Baltimore kind of grew and became -- I would say that the port kind of activities in Baltimore were supplemented by more production and manufacturing.
GJERDEBaltimore grew up some of its valleys where water power was still available, and in the early 1800s. And we are in one of those valleys, the Jones Falls Valley, in a spectacular reuse. Many of our industrial buildings are now finding new lives. And I think it's another great way to tap into the history that we have there.
NNAMDIBack to the phones. Here's Roy in Davidsonville, Md. Roy, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ROYHey, I just -- I grew up in New Orleans. And, you know, you were asking about, you know, regional cuisines and, you know...
ROY...some of that. I, you know, I think Tabasco is linked very heavily to Louisiana. And...
ROY...you know, also, there's, you know, big seafood cultures in both places. You know, we boil our crabs there. We use Zatarain's Liquid Crab Boil which is hard to find, but I have recently spotted it on the shelves. But equally, I'm finding Old Bay in other places in the U.S. besides just around here. So it is distributed more widely than, you know, it sounds like people have said. It just depends, I guess, on the grocer. But...
NNAMDISpike, when you go back 400 years, can you find a lot of the same influences in Louisiana that you find in Maryland?
GJERDEYou -- Louisiana food culture doesn't quite go back that far. I mean, we were -- which is one of my -- which is...
NNAMDIOh, please talk about it.
GJERDENo. Well, it's -- that's why we talk about, you know, the Mid-Atlantic being one of the first Creolized -- you know, I think the Creole cuisine of Louisiana is kind of the -- for a lot of people, is the definition of that process of the blending of various cultures. But in Maryland, it happened much, much earlier. I love to think of the fish pepper that's become so important to us at Woodberry as kind of a precursor. That spice, that combination of spice that's used principally with fish and shellfish is the precursor to the Old Bay that we're talking about today.
GJERDESo there's this incredible history of spice, of hot spice, especially 'cause black pepper wasn't as -- you know, it was precious and an exotic thing. It wasn't as available to anybody in the Chesapeake, especially people that didn't have means of, you know, importing it, is why, to me, that's so interesting. I think also -- well, I'll leave it at that for now.
NNAMDIHere then, going back to Florida, is Lydia in Cheverly, Md. Lydia, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
LYDIAHi, Kojo. Thank you so much. It's a great show. I love cooking. And my husband and I moved -- well, we're snowbirds, so we have a house here in Cheverly. And then we also have a house in Southwest Florida, which, by the way, we can get Old Bay down there, but -- at our groceries.
LYDIAOh, yeah. Can you hear me?
NNAMDIYes, we can.
LYDIAHello? Oh, you can. Did you hear what I just said?
NNAMDIWe just heard, and we hope our other listeners heard, too, that you can get it in Florida.
LYDIAYou can get it in Florida. (unintelligible) Yes, you can get it in Florida. I guess, as they say, depends on the grocer. But one thing, when we were going down to Florida, we stopped to visit my sister-in-law who is married to a fellow from Colombia. And they lived and they raised their kids in Florida. And the one spice that she always used in everything was adobo.
LYDIAAnd the adobo that has the red -- it's a yellow container with the red top that has with pepper. And to me, that -- since we moved down to Florida, we've added it to everything. And to me that's the flavor of Florida. I know it comes in different flavors. But the stuff -- the adobo with pepper, so if you've never tried it, you should. Thanks.
NNAMDISo that's what's nudging Old Bay out of the Florida market. Thank you very much for your call. Okay. Since we are going to go there, let us also go therefore, to Ethiopia. And Emmanuelle (sp?) in Dunkirk, MD wants to talk about an Ethiopian spice, which is it, Emmanuelle?
EMMANUELLEHello. I'd just like to say, I love your show. And I would like to talk about Ethiopian spice called mitmita.
NNAMDISpell that for us, please.
EMMANUELLE…t-m-e-t-a . M-e-t-m-e-t-a.
NNAMDIAnd how do you pronounce it?
NNAMDIMitmita. Okay. Go ahead.
EMMANUELLEWell, mitmita is a very -- we like to eat -- it's a very popular spice in Ethiopia, especially southern Ethiopia. It is very strong and it is used -- I think, personally, I think it's what makes Ethiopian dishes different from other cuisine even African cuisine. And you can find it in very similarly named...
NNAMDIIs it, like, in most Ethiopian dishes?
EMMANUELLEIn most, yes, definitely especially, yeah, in most meat-based ones, like doro wot or kitfo, which are both made out of chicken and beef ground up.
NNAMDIOkay. So, if one ate a lot of that in Addis Ababa, would one likely have been eating some of that also?
EMMANUELLEYes, you can find it in Addis Ababa and...
NNAMDIWell, we were there in January...
EMMANUELLEAnd in Wolleka.
NNAMDI...and probably ate quite a bit of that spice without realizing what it was. But now we will look into it. Thank you, Emmanuelle, for sharing that with us.
EMMANUELLEYou're welcome. Thanks for having me on the show.
NNAMDIYou're welcome. We're going to take a short break. When we come back, we'll continue our Food Wednesday conversation. It started with Old Bay and we're still discussing Old Bay. But we're finding out about other spices. Also, feel free to call us up, 800-433-8850. Are there other spices, seasonings or flavors that you feel are attached to a place's identity the way that Old Bay is attached to the Chesapeake and what are they? 800-433-8850. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back to our Food Wednesday conversation on Old Bay Seasoning. We're talking with Monica Bhide. She's a food writer, cookbook author. Her works include "Modern Spice: Inspired Indian Flavors for the Contemporary Kitchen." She's also the creator of the iSpice app for smartphones and lives in the Washington are. Spike Gjerde is the chef and owner of the Woodberry Kitchen Restaurant in Baltimore, MD.
NNAMDIOther restaurants include Shoo-fly, Parts and Labor and Artifact Coffee, all located in Baltimore. Spike, let's talk about a different kind of spice, Spike, for a minute. You've said that oysters with your Snake Oil Fish Pepper Sauce is one of the dishes that made your career. Why was this combination of spice and seafood such an important discovery for you?
GJERDEI think because they were two things. One of which we are well aware of. Oysters in the Chesapeake are inextricably linked, and another thing which was the fish pepper which had a role in both the agriculture and the cuisine of the Chesapeake in the mid-Atlantic for centuries until it, too, faded from view. And we were able to -- I learned about fish pepper and then encouraged some of the farmers that we work closely with to grow it.
GJERDEAnd when we finally tasted the fish pepper, which had as we talked about earlier had kind of given spice and flavor to a lot of Chesapeake Bay fish and shellfish dishes in previous centuries. And we finally tasted that combination again together, the spicy, red, fruity heat of fish pepper with, say, Chesapeake Bay oyster which tends to be a little more on the kind of the, you know, less briny. Those -- that combination was just a revelation and I felt like I was tasting something that was truly of the place.
NNAMDIAnd one of the...
BHIDEI'm just going to follow him.
NNAMDIOne of the things we like about Monica Bhide is that she's very upfront about everything.
NNAMDINot only about including the word libido in every conversation, but also about what she wants to ask you for. Go ahead, Monica.
BHIDEI'm either going to follow your home or you're going to mail me some of that sauce.
GJERDEWe will get some fish -- the snake oil into your hands as soon as possible.
NNAMDIShe is unashamed about asking for this thing. But, Monica, what spices do you feel compliment oysters well or other things we might eat from the bay?
BHIDESo do you know, this is very embarrassing, but I don't eat oysters.
NNAMDIThe one thing...
NNAMDI...that I ask her about is the one thing she does not eat.
BHIDEThe only way I've eaten oysters is cooked with loads of butter and garlic. And that I can do, I don't do raw oysters. So I'm happy to try your sauce with some raw oysters.
GJERDEWe do that dish, as you described it, in a wood-burning oven with Chesapeake oysters, butter and a little snake oil.
BHIDESee, I could do that.
GJERDEAnd that you would...
BHIDEI could do that.
NNAMDIOh, yeah, she can work with that.
BHIDEI can work with that.
NNAMDILet's go on to Tom in Derwood, MD. Tom, you're on the air, go ahead please.
TOMYes. I wanted to, first of all, thank you for taking my call. One of my favorite things to try Old Bay on is popcorn.
TOMBut my son's Boy Scout troop is in Scout camp in western Pennsylvania and, as a result, comes into contact with a lot of Boy Scout troops from, say, Ohio and further west. And many of them have never experienced Old Bay and their first experience is borrowing ours so they can spice up the camp food.
NNAMDIWell, I got to tell you about Boy Scout experiences when I was a kid, Monica, because when the cook were very, very bad, but our Boy Scout teacher taught us one thing, there is nothing that cannot be curried. So Old Bay kind of serve the same purpose, huh?
TOMYes, very much. As a matter of fact, a couple of years after our first visit, I was approached by a Boy Scout who said, I remember you from Maryland a couple of years ago, you told me about Old Bay and now I use it all the time.
TOMAnd he introduced it to his mom. And by the way, I saw used in the restaurant in Louisiana that's on the "True Blood" show.
NNAMDIThere you go. Monica?
BHIDEIt's funny, you know, when I was researching for the show, I was trying to figure out, like, what are some different ways people use Old Bay. And the best directions I came upon was this website where the guy says, take whatever you want, add Old Bay, drink some beer, that's it. That's the way to use it.
BHIDEIt's just about right.
GJERDEAnd now they got Old Bay in the beer, so you...
NNAMDIIn the beer.
GJERDE...save you the step.
NNAMDITom, thank you very much for your call. Spike, let's talk about crab cakes for a minute. Some people would assume that crab cakes go hand in hand with Old Bay seasoning. What would you say to that?
GJERDEI would say that's true.
GJERDEBut it's not necessarily -- so it's Old Bay and crab cake is fantastic. Crab cake without Old Bay is fantastic.
BHIDEWith the fish sauce, I'm assuming.
GJERDEFish sauce on the side, a little ground fish pepper inside is great. You know, we love that the sweetness and that delicate sweetness and delicate texture of crab cake -- of crab in Maryland is something that's unrepeatable and I happen to make crab cakes without Old Bay. But I would not turn down a crab cake that was made with Old Bay. And I think a light hand in this case is probably the key with whatever seasoning you're using.
NNAMDISpike does not have a lot of missteps, but let him tell you about one that he make because it's my understanding that Spike tried not serving crab cakes at his first restaurant in Baltimore. Tell our listeners what happened then.
GJERDEOh, it was a dark night. And it was very early in my career and it was, as you described, one of the many missteps. So we were there and it was very, very quiet. And then a table came into the restaurant and we are very excited and it was also the president of the Baltimore City Council. And so we had a, you know, we have a very...
NNAMDIYou want to make an impression.
GJERDEAnd the menus went out. And the menu -- the next thing we knew the menus were on the table and the table was empty. And the reason was, in two words, no crab cakes. And they were gone into the dark night and I learned my lesson as a young chef.
NNAMDIThat was it.
GJERDEThat was it.
NNAMDICrab cakes on the menu after that, but only when Chesapeake Bay crabs are in season.
GJERDEVery true. We have a relationship with watermen, you know, on the bay and we see along with rockfish and oysters is, you know, the Maryland blue crab in the bay is one of the holy trinity of our fish and shellfish that we love so much. And we really want to support those guys. And, again, I believe that a true Maryland or Chesapeake crab cake is made with Chesapeake Bay blue crab and that's where we get it when we can.
GJERDEAnd when we don't, we try to point -- you know, it's fortunate that blue crabs are in season right now and through the summer. And oysters really, I think, are at their best in the cold months. And so we have this -- we have a year-round supply of great fish, shellfish in the bay, it's just not the same thing all year round.
NNAMDINow on to Old Bay as an exercise in foreign relations. Here's Amy in Edgewater, MD. Amy, tell us your story.
AMYHi. I'm so pleased to be on the show. I love it.
AMYAnd I do live here where the (word?) River meets the Chesapeake Bay, so I spend a lot of time on the water and Old Bay is important to us. But when I was in college in 1995, I spent a semester in Ireland and then travelled through Europe. So when I was packing, my limited amount of stuff that I could take with me, my mom shows up with all of these canisters of Old Bay. And I was like, well, what are you doing with those?
AMYAnd she said you need to take them with you because they have the Maryland symbol on the back and you can give them to people all through your trip. And I ended up doing that, and it was a wonderful idea from my wonderful mom. And so I gave them out all through Ireland, all the way to the Czech Republic.
NNAMDIAnd what was the response?
NNAMDIWhat was the response that you got for your gift?
AMYOh, they loved it. It was like Ireland had totally missed the spice train. I don't even know. They couldn't get enough of it. I really don't know how they -- so all the way, everybody loved it and for different reasons. But I would say the Irish were the most obsessed with it, my Irish friends, because they just didn't use spices very often.
BHIDEThey don't. I remember reading a quote somewhere that said the Irish didn't think that India was a country, that it was just the smell in the East and there was the spices. There's nothing there except the smell in the East.
NNAMDIExcept the smell?
AMYIt is true.
NNAMDIAmy, thank you very much for your call.
AMYThank you. Have a good day.
NNAMDIYou too. We move on to Alma (sp?) in Savannah, GA. Alma, you're on the air, go ahead please.
ALMAWell, thank you, Kojo, for taking my call. I just moved from D.C. to Savannah and Tybee Island, GA.
ALMAAnd I just want to let you know, Old Bay is alive, well, very heavily used in all low country cooking.
NNAMDIOh, good. Thank you very much. So, in Savannah, GA, not a problem.
ALMAAbsolutely not. I was surprised that people in Florida were not able to get it because it's very important in something low country boil, which is -- well, in Georgia of course we use sweet local Georgia shrimp, crab, mussels, crawdads, potatoes, corn, sausage. And the Old Bay is very important to that. And it's a very important regional dish. So...
NNAMDIWell, you're living in Savannah now, you might as well go to a jazz club and make sure that whatever food you order there, you have Old Bay with it.
ALMAAbsolutely. Thank you.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Alma. We got an email from Oso (sp?) who says, "My last two trips to Dakar, Senegal involved taking Old Bay to expats living there. The national dish is a fish and rice dish and Old Bay would make it their own." Dakar, Senegal. Spike, one of your recipes is included in the Old Bay Focus Cookbook that the Frederick-based brewery Flying Dog recently published to coincide with the release of its Dead Rice Ale...
NNAMDI...which is brewed with Old Bay in it. What did you make of the idea of brewing beer with the seasoning?
GJERDEI got to say, I was a little skeptical. I'm not going to -- and we tried it and it's awesome. And it -- I think, you know, I'm not sure if it's going to make quite the dent that Old Bay has made, I think, as we're hearing, you know, nationally and around the world. But it is another great flavor. And I took the same kind of attack with my recipe. It was kind of a beery cheese dip that you could put just about anything in. And it turns out that Old Bay in that was a fantastic combination.
NNAMDIAnything Old Bay -- beer made with Old Bay, Monica?
BHIDEThat sounds so good. I have to say, though, when I was talking to the lady who was talking about cooking in Georgia, there's a very nice site called SimplyRecipes.com. They do -- she does beautiful recipes. One of her recipes is taking Virginia peanuts and boiling them with Old Bay. And I've had boiled peanuts on the streets, like when you go down south, you can start getting them. But I've never had it with Old Bay. And I thought your last caller may actually enjoy that taste. It was delicious. They don't keep for very long...
NNAMDIDown in Savannah, GA.
BHIDE...but you boil them with Old Bay and you eat them, it's just delicious.
NNAMDILet's go back to Ethiopia with Peter in Rockville, MD. Peter, your turn.
PETERThank you, Kojo, for doing this. Love your show and thank you for the -- I am an Old Bay fan. And the -- the previous caller called for the Ethiopia and I think he was talking about the meat. But I think the general -- the common spice that we use in most of the dishes is not actually mitmita. It is berbere. It's a cayenne base with garlic, onion, all spice and the other ingredients combined.
PETERSo that is the one which is actually very close to Old Bay. And also, it goes -- it compliments Old Bay very well. It goes with shrimp, crabs and all those other foods. So that was the kind of like information I wanted to give. And I love Old Bay and it also goes very well with Old Bay. But the name is berbere, not mitmita. So you have...
NNAMDIIndeed, Peter, you got lots of approval here both from Spike and from Monica because they're both familiar with berbere.
PETEROkay. Okay, great. Great.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call. Is there anything that, point blank, you would straight up refuse to combine Old Bay with? Not everyone is a fan a few years ago. I remember Gene Weingarten wrote in the Washington Post about his hatred of Old Bay. But is there anything that you would not use Old Bay with, just absolutely not?
GJERDEI'm a believer now in Old Bay beer, but I've had the Old Bay ice cream and I just -- I can't get with that. But I can't believe that nobody said Old Bay on sweet corn, because that -- if you don't have crabs, Old Bay on buttered sweet corn is -- that does it for me. That's easy.
NNAMDIWhat would you absolutely not use Old Bay on, Monica?
BHIDEI would say the same, ice cream. It just doesn't sound right.
NNAMDIIce cream is the one thing that neither of them would use Old Bay on. And I'm afraid that's about all the time we've had in this broadcast. Thanks to all of those of you who called with your own experiences with Old Bay and with your comparisons with other spices in other places. Monica Bhide is a food writer, cookbook author. Her works include "Modern Spice: Inspired Indian Flavors for the Contemporary Kitchen."
NNAMDIShe's also the creator of the iSpice app. And now, she is also writing fiction, short stories that can be found in the collection, "Singapore Noir." Monica, always a pleasure.
BHIDEThank you for having me.
NNAMDISpike Gjerde is the chef and owner of the Woodberry Kitchen Restaurant in Baltimore, MD. His other restaurants include Shoo-fly, Parts and Labor and Artifact Coffee, all located in Baltimore. Spike, always a pleasure.
GJERDEThank you very much.
NNAMDIAnd thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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