Kara Mae Harris became interested in Maryland’s cooking history after finding recipes for dishes like the Maryland White Potato Pie.
They were recipes she had never heard and so, naturally, her curiosity led her to try to replicate them.
These experiments in the kitchen were the beginnings of her blog, Old Line Plate, where she researches and shares historic Maryland foods, recipes, cookbooks, and stories of the people behind the culinary creations.
Since Harris started writing the blog in 2011, it has amassed a database of more than 50,000 recipes.
Now, Harris is out with a new book, “Old Line Plate: Stories & Recipes From Maryland,” featuring some of the foods cooked, eaten, and treasured by Marylanders throughout the state’s history. It is available to purchase at Atomic Books or through the Old Line Plate blog.
The book started as a personal project for Harris, but she later decided to publish it to share it with readers.
“I was inspired by the possibilities of digital printing,” she said. “I actually made the book for myself, as a memento of some of my favorite posts, like a photo album. But I figured I might as well see if anyone wanted one while I was at it.”
Harris’s process of researching and cooking foods varies.
“My process is different each time but a lot of time I just find a recipe for ingredients I have or that looks interesting, and then I research it afterwards,” Harris said. “I use ancestry and newspaper archives through the library mostly, but it depends on what angle I’m writing about. Sometimes I can check out a stack of books, like if the topic is canned food or something like that. I don’t really test the foods; I just try my best to follow the recipe instructions and hope it turns out.”
Some of Harris’s favorite recipes from the book are Italian recipes, like clam sauce with fresh pasta, as well as the white potato pie, which she developed with help from Bramble Baking Company.
But Harris said her book is more than the recipes themselves; it’s about the stories those foods – and their cooks – tell.
One story that stood out to Harris was about a contest whose winners were mentioned frequently in the newspaper.
“I really liked researching the Delmarva chicken cooking contest and how much prestige it brought to the women who won the contest,” she said.
She was also drawn to the story of Evelyn Harris, a farmer from Maryland’s Eastern Shore, who wrote a recipe for boiled rockfish with egg sauce. The Old Line Plate author found newspaper columns and articles in which Evelyn spoke at length about her canning business and cooking knowledge.
Another story was about a farming couple named Louise and John Dyson, whom Harris came across while researching a recipe for crab cakes by the Dysons’ granddaughter, Edith.
“I wouldn’t call it ‘favorite’ but the story of Louise and John Dyson having their farm taken away was very heartbreaking,” she said. “That was in my first year of regularly updating the blog and I tried a random crab cake recipe and ended up shedding a tear or two while I was researching the family.”
The white potato pie was one of the first recipes Harris researched and wrote about for Old Line Plate in 2011.
“Once I found out it had the same origin as sweet potato pie and other ‘pudding’ type pies, it made sense,” she said. “What has always been interesting is that it became associated with Maryland over time. I tested a lot of the recipes and found they were fairly similar. What is different is how you flavor it and how well you blend the potatoes.”
White potatoes do not have the orange color and silkiness of their sweet potato cousins, so they have a different taste, texture and appearance in a pie. Harris recommends making white potato pie with plenty of lemon zest.
Harris is working on a holiday book of recipes for 2023. She plans to include several of her favorite recipes, such as eggnog, apple toddy, stuffed ham, sauerkraut, kinklings that are made in Western Maryland for Fat Tuesday, and Easter recipes from immigrant communities in Baltimore.
“I am really excited about this one,” she said. “It will be more of a ‘real’ cookbook with tested recipes that readers can use. I’ve collected holiday recipes from Maryland cookbooks for recipes that Marylanders make to celebrate Easter, Lunar New Year, Passover, Christmas, and more. I could never make a book that was fully representative of the scope of traditions in Maryland, but this book has a nice little selection of some special ones.”