“Crabcakes and football! That’s what Maryland does!” – “Flip”, in Wedding Crashers
When it comes to food, Maryland is known for it’s Blue Crabs and crabcakes. Baltimore is synonymous with Berger Cookies and pit beef. At least around here. When I started this blog, I wanted to showcase to everyone else the unique foods that make up our local faire. I did not want to highlight fancy restaurants and high class cuisine. At it’s roots, this nest of pirates was made up of dockworkers, farmers and steelworkers. Our history bridges the old world with the new, the North and the South, Black and White. And while recent years have seen a remarkable renaissance of progressive culinary endeavors and complex palattes, ours is a table recalling a tradition of fried chicken, beer steamed crabs, smoked beef and raw oysters. The journey and adventure of chronicalling these foods has taken me throughout the city, showing me the rich tradition of Baltimore’s public markets, family bakeries and spirit of independent entrepreneurs. These adventures have also led me to learn more about our community, and deepen my reverence for the long proud and nearly lost legacies that still course through our city’s veins.
I first heard of horse drawn fruit carts from one of The Sun’s lists of things every Baltimore foodie should try. I had done most, but those lists opened my eyes to Smith Island Cakes, local craft beers and the Baltimore Arabbers. There were articles here and there about these Black families, men and women who walked the streets of the city, singing and peddling their fruit. There were articles, and occasionally video footage but recently there was an effort to legitimately document this dying profession. Earlier this year I tried to find some of these Arabbers of their stables using some of the outdated resources online, but I ended up driving in circles around Baltimore’s West Side. And the other week, late at night during one of my night shift’s at work I came across this article. It captured the tone and message that I felt was so fleeting, and I was compelled to reach out to the author. David Frey was helpful and informative, and with his suggestions and information on the first day off I could spare I made my way down to the stables on North Fremont.
Passing quickly into abandoned and boarded up rowhouses, homeless and even groups of Baltimore Police wearing thick vests I found myself looking at an empty lot with locked gates. Disappointed, I asked one of the men standing around if the horses were going out today. “Nope” was all I got. Seeing my reaction, Tony as he would introduce himself invited me in to look around and see the horses for myself. He showed me the mural on the wall, a painted visage of his own, the stables and the carts, falling apart but waiting loyally for their turn to carry fruit again. He told me that he’d been doing this since he was eight or nine years old, and when I commended him, saying “I have so much respect for you man, you guys are the last to do it” he simply nodded and continued with his work. And so while I didn’t get to photograph the images I had of these men and women, walking and singing, I did welcome the privileged chance to see for just a few minutes, into the life of these people, our people, their horses and for just a moment, their history.
That’s what Maryland does.