The coronavirus pandemic has many of us from Special Collections and University Archives (SCUA) working from home, which provides the opportunity for me, student assistant Emily Moore, to get to know our collections in a new way. My current project at Hornbake involves working closely on our collection of Maryland Public Television (MPT), which celebrated its milestone 50th anniversary in 2019 (check out the online version of our gallery exhibit. As a recent transplant from the West Coast, I have discovered that working with MPT content provides me a unique lens into Maryland culture and history. A wide range of television content that dates from the 1970s is available from SCUA in our Digital Collections database. Through watching four episodes of MPT programs, I got an intimate, first-hand introduction to Maryland. Today’s post focuses on Chesapeake Bay Cooking with John Shields, but be sure to check back for subsequent posts about MPT classic programming including Crabs, Our Street and Basically Baseball.
Chesapeake Bay Cooking with John Shields is hosted by Baltimore native John Shields, who balances interludes of cooking with explorations of the Mid-Atlantic landscape, combining his love of animals, plants, learning and food. Each episode features a different region, offering viewers an armchair trip that is especially welcome as we socially distance and remain in our homes. In his April 7, 1998 episode on Bishop’s Head, we learn how to make Maryland fried chicken and bread in the shape of a crab. As a woman born and raised in Colorado, I had to Google what a blue crab looked like in order to make sure I structured mine correctly. Turns out they’re beautiful. Here’s a picture of one featured on a postcard from the National Trust Library Postcard Collection:
I love fried chicken, but I have always been reluctant to try making a batch without a fryer. John Shields, however, demonstrates an easy way to use a pan frying technique. Thankfully, I already had most of the ingredients, but because of the pandemic I had to create my own homemade buttermilk and Chesapeake Bay seasoning substitutes. (Was Shields referring to Old Bay? Keep in mind I only learned about Old Bay six months ago, and I definitely don’t have any in my kitchen (yet!). I approximate my own and hope for the best; I won’t be able to tell if it’s wrong anyway.
I put the chicken in one morning to soak up all the goodness overnight. Shields really sells this recipe by promising lots of secrets, and boy does he deliver. Here they are: hot oil (400 degrees), a BIG skillet with a cover and cooking for 20 minutes. It turned out as juicy as Lizzo’s big hit last year.
Crusty Crustacean Bread
In the second cooking segment of the episode, Shields is joined by Whitey Schmidt, a man whose amazing name is matched only by his amazing beard. Whitey describes his recipe like the technical challenge round on The Great British Baking Show – we get virtually no information on ingredient volume or measurements. I decided to pretend like it really was 1998 and I had to make do with the information from the show.
As with the buttermilk for the fried chicken, a substitute was necessary, but in this case, it was a full omission – I had no raisins to make the crab eyes. My crab was destined to know the world only through his pinchers and little lemon antennae. After a bunch of kneading (I’ve got the need to knead), two rounds of rising and 15 minutes in the oven, my bread came out tasty, if a little… too puffy? If anyone knows why, leave a comment with the answer!
So, thanks to John Shields and his old pal Whitey Schmidt, plus featured children helpers Erica and Brian, my husband and I are breaking up our pandemic menu of bananas and canned tomatoes. With two more episodes of Chesapeake Bay Cooking currently digitized, I’m looking forward to making shortcake (Reedville, Virginia episode) and learning what on earth slippery dumplings are (Kent County, Maryland episode).
Before the pandemic, my projects at Hornbake Library included creating an inventory and associated metadata of the entire MPT audiovisual collection. While that can be repetitive and difficult to translate into a compelling blog post, the content of MPT programming is a whole different story! Check back soon for the next installment of our MPT content series, where we learn hot baseball tips from the 1973 Baltimore Orioles!
All images in this post are courtesy of Emily Moore unless otherwise noted.
Emily Moore is a second year MLIS student with a background in art and theory. In addition to her role as a student assistant at Special Collections and University Archives, she works as the Archival Assistant at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.