When Kara Mae Harris was compiling her new book of Maryland holiday recipes, she was reminded of a treasured memory of making a St. Mary’s County stuffed ham for Easter with her family in 2019.
“That was the year before the pandemic so it really stuck with me,” said Harris, who is also the author of the Old Line Plate blog. “It also brought to mind my friend Bertha Hunt, who is at least a fifth-generation stuffed ham maker, and her family is a big part of its history so I was lucky to meet her in person in 2021 and taste the ham that she made. I hope the book encourages other people to try to make stuffed ham. It’s a challenge but a great occasion to gather with loved ones.”
Harris’s latest book, “Festive Maryland Recipes,” will showcase holiday-related dishes that are significant to the Old Line State.
Since 2011, Harris has researched and shared Maryland cookbooks, foods and recipes — along with the stories and history behind them — on her blog.
Now, she is excited to release a book of mostly original content. “Festive Maryland Recipes” can be pre-ordered on Harris’s blog.
Harris said she received nice feedback on her previous book, “Old Line Plate: Stories & Recipes From Maryland,” which included posts from her blog. It was hard for her not to share all the new essays immediately, she said.
It’s also been a learning experience for Harris, who went through a lot of oral histories and research about different holidays.
“‘Festive Maryland Recipes’ is a collection of recipes that Marylanders have made to celebrate all kinds of occasions, from New Year’s to Passover to church strawberry festivals,” Harris said. “For the first time, I have worked with a recipe developer to interpret the recipes and give clear instructions so that people can make dishes at home.”
Recipe developer Rachel Rappaport worked with Harris to ensure the book had a balanced mix of savory and sweet dishes.
Harris had a variety of holidays and recipes to choose from for her book. At first, she selected an assortment of recipes from library collections and her own collection to show as much variety of holiday foods as possible while limiting it to Maryland cookbooks and newspapers.
Harris said she loved reading about the Welsh Miners of Western Maryland celebrating St. David’s Day, and about the Greek Orthodox Easter ceremonies. Her favorite recipe is for kinklings, also known as fastnachts, a type of fried dough.
Designer Sara Tomko and illustrator Ben Claassen helped bring to life the visual elements of Harris’s book. Claassen has been an illustrator for the Washington Post and DC City Paper, among other publications. Meanwhile, Tomko’s portfolio includes design work for Baltimore’s own Wild Bay kombucha bottles.
“We wanted the cover illustration to be collage style to showcase how these recipes, traditions and cultures existed regionally and as a nod to the zine style Old Line Plate originated,” Tomko said. “The color palette, patterns, and textures feel festive and historic. The tablescape represents the variety of recipes found within the book and hints of the past are woven into the design with the use of the original recipe cards as collage elements. The cover represents that there is a seat at the table for everyone to share and enjoy their holiday traditions.”
While working on one of her blog posts, “Rose tarantum Jelly Miss Fanny’s Receipt Book,” Harris spoke with Joyce White, a food historian and the vice president of the board of trustees of Hammond-Harwood House.
Harris often referred to White’s site and work for background on Maryland dishes, including her posts on stuffed ham and white potato pie.
“She’s a person I often defer to, especially when it comes to some of Maryland’s older dishes and their British roots,” Harris said. “She’s actually busy working on a book project of her own – the highly-anticipated follow up to the ‘Maryland’s Way‘ cookbook. I love interviewing and talking to her because she’s supportive and of course we can talk up a storm about old recipes.”
Maryland has a rich food history and recipes for readers to discover and try for themselves, Harris said, and she hopes her book will introduce people to more of them.
“I hope people understand that the recipes I write about go beyond crabcakes and Smith Island Cake,” she said. “I always strive to find stories that are lesser-known. It may not be what you expected to find but that’s what’s so wonderful about Maryland food – there’s always something new to learn.”
Harris already has plans for another book. She and Rappaport are working on a zine/bound book of recipes, which Harris said will feature lighter, more summer-oriented foods themed around ladies luncheons and “dainty” foods.