Trying to make a cake Md.'s state dessert

January 23, 2008 5:09:11 AM PST
Legislators had no trouble swallowing the latest candidate for a Maryland state symbol: the 10-layer Smith Island cake.

Delegate Page Elmore, R-Somerset, wants to make the decadent offering the state's official dessert, and he cooked up a sweet bribe: 450 slices were delivered Tuesday to state lawmakers and their aides.

"I make a pretty mean sweet potato pie, but oh, this is good," said Delegate Melony Griffith, D-Prince George's, who tucked into a thin slice of the cake's most common flavor: yellow cake in centimeter-thick layers with chocolate frosting.

Elmore hopes his bill gives a boost to Smith Island, which has only about 260 year-round residents. Islanders historically made their living pulling crabs and oysters from the Chesapeake Bay, but pollution has hurt the seafood industry and better jobs on the mainland have sapped the island's working population.

"It's economic development for Smith Island and lower Eastern Shore bakeries," Elmore said, watching volunteers unload more than a dozen boxes of cake slices. "Florida has the key lime pie. Massachusetts has the Boston cream pie. This is ours."

Smith Island cakes come in dozens of flavors, including pineapple, banana and coconut, and generally have 10 layers. Islanders trace the cakes' origin to British colonists who settled on the island, and some residents make a living selling them.

"My mom ships them all over the state, all over the country," said Dwight "Duke" Marshall, a Smith Island resident and grocery store owner who helped pass out slices to lawmakers. "We just shipped two to Iraq the other day."

About 50 lawmakers have agreed to co-sign Elmore's bill, but some others think another state symbol is unnecessary.

For instance, you could wash down a slice of cake with the state drink (milk) after working up an appetite playing the state sport (jousting), sailing the state boat (skipjack) or perhaps joining in the state folk dance (square dancing).

"Personally, I believe there's enough state items," said Sen. Richard Colburn, R-Dorchester, who was on the losing end of a 2001 vote where the Calico cat was designated the state cat. "Every time you add one, the others lose significance.

"But I love Smith Island cakes. I don't know what I'm going to do."

Florida named key lime pie its official pie in 2006, while Massachusetts picked its official dessert in 1996. Other sweets elevated to state-symbol status include the chocolate chip cookie (Massachusetts), the Boston cream donut (Massachusetts again), apple pie (Vermont) and Jell-O (Utah). Years of legislative attempts to make chocolate chip the state cookie of Pennsylvania have failed.