Festive Maryland Recipes Celebrates the Multi-Cultural History of Home Cooking

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Kara Mae Harris, author of Festive Maryland Recipes: Holiday Traditions from the Old Line State, has long been a cookbook connoisseur and collector. “I have around 300-something Maryland cookbooks,” Harris says. “They’re all mostly from Christian congregations or white upper-class churches so I’m so lucky when I can find something different.”

Harris’ cookbook-collecting hobby turned into a blog, Old Line Plate, where she began republishing recipes in 2015. Many of those historical recipes were impossible to recreate. “Historic recipes are really vague,” she explains. “Sometimes they say ‘cook it until it’s done’ or  ‘take an egg’s worth of butter’  or ‘a gill of cream and cook in a slow oven.’”

Harris credits the zine SnoBaltimore, by Sara Tomko, as her inspiration for starting Old Line Plate. Started in 2012, SnoBaltimore is a guide to the city’s sno-ball stands. When Harris had the idea to make a zine of her favorite holiday recipes, Tomko was an obvious first choice for a designer. “Last fall I said [to Tomko]…‘How would you feel if the zine turned into a book? How would you feel if that book had a recipe developer? How would you feel if we roped in an illustrator?’” 

She connected with Rachel Rappaport, who has been working as a recipe developer since 2004, and has an impressive resume with clients like McCormick and Frank’s RedHot. Rappaport had already updated several of the Baltimore classics, like coddies, smearcase, and peach cake. To Harris’ delight, when she reached out to see if she would be interested in developing recipes for the project, Rappaport said yes. 

Harris asked illustrator Ben Classen III, creator of the long-running comic strip “Dirt Farm,” to join the team. “It’s a very rinky-dink project,” Harris describes. “And I’m proud of that fact because everybody who put work into this did it because they believed it would do well.”

The team, though small, was not at all “rinky-dink.” As a self-described hobbyist recipe collector, and amateur food historian, Harris put an incredible amount of time and energy into research. It took her all over Maryland: from the Eastern Shore, down to Saint Michaels, and to the Chesapeake Maritime Museum where she searched photo archives. She credits Digital Maryland, Enoch Pratt Free Library, and several institutions in Maryland as resources for photos and newspaper clippings.

Tomorrow, October 14th at the Enoch Pratt Free Library Central Library, the team will celebrate the result with the launch of Festive Maryland Recipes: Holiday Traditions from the Old Line State.


The cookbook features twenty-three recipes that trace histories of migration and food from Korea, Greece, Czech Republic, Germany, Wales, Italy, as well as from Black, Jewish, and Lumbee communities in Maryland. It is one of the most ambitious world-spanning collections of recipes I have ever encountered. In just 100 pages, the author, recipe developer, designer, and illustrator have made the case that there is a uniquely American cuisine: the story of migration, colonialism, and what comes after. 

Each recipe in Festive Maryland Recipes is introduced by Harris with a thoughtful essay on the historical background and cultural context of the dish. The modernized recipes are presented with notes from recipe developer Rachel Rappaport. “The challenge in the design was [combining] Kara’s historical essays and Rachel’s translated recipes. It’s very unique because it’s half history text and half cookbookso there’s a key or ‘how to use this book’ after the intro,” shares designer Sara Tomko.

Tomko is a seasoned graphic designer who started her career in publishing. “Print is not something that I’m working on much anymore, so getting this opportunity was so much fun. I jumped at the chance,” she shares. 

The most notable design element is the color palette. The pink cover makes the book stand out. “[Pink is] such a joyful color, and it became a part of this palette that has blues, greens, oranges,” Tomko explains. “Greens, oranges, and blues give depth to the pinks but don’t evoke feelings of the holidays like classic Christmas colors red and green.”


“Sara wisely picked a color palette that was joyful and not specific to a holiday,” Harris expounds. “Festive Maryland Recipes includes lots of recipes around holidays or seasons. Strawberry cobbler is not a holiday recipe but strawberry festivals were held in the spring as a way for churches to make money.” 

“When I was looking for supplemental images, I found historic engravings that I tried to pull into the book [design],” Tomko shares on finding historical inspiration to match the aged recipes. With so much history and joy to cover, she made use of collages to aid in storytelling. “When we were doing photo research, we tried really hard to make sure that representation was shown, especially the joy of the holidays… and not just in words.” The collages bring together elements of each tradition and include illustrations, photos, and newspaper clippings. One of the most interesting collages, “Eggnog to Blame,” on page 60, features actual newspaper stories relating to “eggnog related crimes.” 

The book flows through the seasons from Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Hannukah dishes to Black and Korean traditions around the New Year. Spring recipes span a globe of traditions imported to Maryland, including Welsh Ginger Cake and Pennsylvania Dutch Fastnachts (potato doughnuts) eaten around Shrove Tuesday or Fat Tuesday, and Saint David’s Day on March 1. Easter cookies and pies from Greece and Italy join the classic and all-around celebratory dish of Chicken and Pastry from the Lumbee tribe.

“There’s actually no crab in this book. I’ve been wondering if I’m gonna get any blowback from that,” Harris ponders. “Crab slowly became a luxury item, when it used to be you could buy crab cakes on the street,” she says. The increasing price of crab has notably reduced the feasibility of the Maryland crab traditions. “When I was growing up, every weekend we would have steamed crabs. I barely eat them once a year now,” Tomko explainsbecause of their high price. 


There is a very Maryland-centric dish that will likely never become too expensive to have on every holiday and it’s sauerkraut. Harris talked to Tonya Thomas from H3irloom Food Group and Chesapeake culinary expert John Shields about this popular fermented cabbage dish. “Sauerkraut was a huge thread throughout the book when I was doing research,” she says. “It came up again and again. I knew it was a holiday tradition but I didn’t realize how important it was and how far back it dated here.” 

“It’s like a comfort food to me,” Tomko interjects. As a lifelong Baltimore, Maryland native, her Czech-Bohemia family ate sauerkraut at every occasion. “Every family party or get-together would have a big crock pot of kielbasa and sauerkraut. And you would just eat bowls and bowls… I feel like we could probably spin sauerkraut into a low-carb health food.” 

Only in Maryland, I conjecture. 


Festive Maryland Recipes, introduced by John Shields, will be released on October 14, 2023. Kara Mae Harris is hosting a launch event at the Enoch Pratt Central Library

Pre-orders are available at Old Line Plate.

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