Flower Mart's exclusion of coddies leaves bad taste

May 10, 1998|By Michael Olesker

THE 81ST annual Flower Mart was beautiful, except for the coddies. Who throws a Flower Mart and fails to offer a coddie? The Women's Civic League, apparently, but why?

If you didn't go to last week's Flower Mart, Baltimore's annual nod to manners and grace (and food), you missed a lovely time. Naturally, there were flowers. Also, arts and crafts and glad choral singing and folks from city and suburb gathered on the cobblestones of Mount Vernon Place to recall, perhaps, a kinder and gentler time.

And, not to be diminished, they also ate like crazy. Under sunlight peeking shyly through sullen clouds, thousands lined up for all kinds of food and drink: Polish kielbasa and Italian sausage, tequila lime chicken and Tijuana Philly cheese steak, hot dogs and hamburgers, Ocean City fries and fried dough -- and the fabulous Baltimore crab cake.

But not the fabulous Baltimore coddie.

Also, Greek gyros and East Bawlamer funnel cakes, Cajun chicken and chocolate strawberries, chicken fajitas and beef fajitas, sweet potato fries and raspberry lemonade, strawberry slush and multiflavored teas and, never to be forgotten, the legendary Baltimore lemon stick.

But not the legendary Baltimore coddie.

For untold generations, Baltimoreans have wrapped their mouths around coddies, the little spiced potato cakes that not only cause the taste buds to offer standing ovations but also take many old-timers back to years when coddies were as common as corner grocery stores.

That's why, for the past 25 years, they were such a hit at the Flower Mart. For 25 years, the Covenant Guild had its little booth, and the lines would form for their coddies, and everybody took a bite and said, "Aaah! Such coddies! Such memories!"

But not this year.

And, not to make too much of this, but there are some pretty hurt feelings about it -- not only among those deprived of the devouring of these coddies but the Covenant Guild members who assumed they could sell them as usual and thus lend their customary hand at good civic work.

The Covenant Guild is a philanthropic organization of about 500 Jewish women. Over the past half-century, it has raised more than $1 million and spread it among a wide variety of city and suburban causes. Members have helped hospitals and bought fire department ambulances. They've provided buses for the elderly and sent considerable money to the Central Scholarship Bureau.

And, for 25 years, they've been part of the Flower Mart -- until this year, when they were denied permission to open their booth, informed days before the festivities that the sale of their traditional coddies was interfering with the sale of traditional crab cakes.

In a letter sent April 30 to Liz Godwin, president of the Women's Civic League, the Covenant Guild's president, Phyllis Glassman, declared:

"Our chairman, Mrs. Sonia Goodman, was informed that we would not be given permission to open our booth. The reason given was coddies interfering with crab cakes. We feel that this reason is not a valid one, rather that it is arbitrary and devious. It is an insult to our intelligence to think that we would accept such an excuse. We feel that we have been given the proverbial slap in the face [to be] excluded from what is supposed to be a Baltimore tradition.

"Contrary to what we had been told, our booth selling coddies did not interfere with the sale of crab cakes. In fact, the year our booth was in the circle near the crab cake booth, we both sold out of food."

There are, make no mistake, bitter feelings about a certain cultural marginalization at play here -- but, at week's end, the Women's Civic League's Liz Godwin sounded considerably upset at such a suggestion.

"I'm sick to my stomach over this," she said. "We had a very good relationship with the Covenant Guild. We like them. The only thing is, we always had all these crab cakes left over. Whenever crab cakes and coddies compete, even my husband says he'd rather have a coddie. I'm really upset over this, tremendously upset."

This makes it unanimous. Here we have two treasured groups of women, each doing lovely work for the community, and each upset over events of the past week.

Peace is hereby called for, words of reconciliation. The Flower Mart alliance of the Women's Civic League and the Covenant Guild should be maintained for the good of us all.

Because they're both wonderful organizations.

Because the great tradition of the Flower Mart deserves their alliance.

And, not to be diminished, because the taste buds of Baltimoreans deserve both the glorious crab cake and the legendary coddie.

Pub Date: 5/10/98

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