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Smith Island Cake getting historic marker

smith island cake
Posted at 11:59 AM, Jan 23, 2023
and last updated 2023-04-03 16:25:31-04

SMITH ISLAND, Md. — Maryland's state dessert just keeps getting more love.

Smith Island Cake, the multilayer yellow cake with traditionally chocolate frosting, is soon set to get a roadside marker recognizing its place in Maryland history.

The sign marker was part of a grant awarded to Smith Island Unitedby the William G. Pomeroy Foundation's "Hungry for History" program.

The Hungry for History grant program "celebrates America’s food history by telling the stories of local and regional food specialties across the United States" and "is designed to commemorate significant food dishes created prior to 1970 and the role they played in defining American culture and forging community identity."

The marker will read "SMITH ISLAND CAKE / PROCLAIMED MARYLAND / STATE DESSERT IN 2008, / THE 8 - 10 LAYER CAKE HAS / BEEN A TRADITION ON THIS / ISLAND SINCE CA. 1900. / WILLIAM G. POMEROY FOUNDATION 2023." It will go up in front of the Smith Island Cultural Center on Caleb Jones Road in Ewell.

The William G. Pomeroy Foundation said the marker will be dedicated Friday, May 12, at 1 p.m.

Carrie Berse, executive director of the Foundation, said:

"The Smith Island cake actually fits nicely with the William G. Pomeroy Foundation Hungry for History program because it's an excellent example of how a food dish helped to forge a community identity... Smith Island residents were looking to meet unique requirements for feeding watermen on extended fishing trips, and so they used their ingenuity to bring a sweet treat to family members and loved ones, and the multilayer cake originated on Smith Island as early as 1900. And one theory as to the origins of the thin layer, which is typically there's 8 to 10 layers in the cake, is electricity didn't arrive on the island until the 1950s. The thin layers baked more quickly in small, wood-fired ovens. Another possibliity is that the multiple layers started as a friendly competition among local cooks... Additionallym the fudgy icing and the thin layers are said to help keep the cake from drying out when watermen were on the boats, so it was a practical solution but also something that was nice for the watermen to be able to take with them on extended trips. We are always looking for interesting regional dishes to spotlight through our hungry for history marker program and we were excited when the folks from smith island united applied for Smith Island cake."

Smith Island United noted the request for a marker was originally denied until they could prove the authentic food was at least 50 years old. The Beach to Bay Heritage Area helped get the marker by submitting handwritten letters from Smith Island bakers, Mary Ada Marshall and Janice Marshall, showing they baked the cakes with their grandmothers and mothers.

Other markers in the nationwide Hungry for History program have recognized West Virginia's buckwheat cakes, North Carolina's sonker dessert, South Carolina's chicken bog dish, Alabama's chicken brissil, Louisiana's "potlikker" (pot liquor), Buffalo's beef on weck sandwich, Syracuse's salt potatoes, New York State's innovation of barbecued chicken, New York's chocolate jumbles cookies, and the Michigan hot dog from Plattsburgh, N.Y.