CRISFIELD -- Rodney Riggin hopes he soon will be able to taste the Blue Jimmy Pillows that won him the grand prize in the 1999 Crab Cooking Contest held here recently.
Less than a year ago, doctors discovered Riggin had a leaking aneurysm in his brain. Surgery saved his life, but, for now, has left him unable to smell or taste the food he makes.
Riggin, 46, said he relied on memories of how food should taste, as well as the comments of family, neighbors and friends who sampled his recipes. "You know who won it for me, don't you?" he said after being named the winner Sept. 3 in the home economics kitchen at Crisfield High School. The Crisfield home-improvement contractor pointed upward, taking none of the credit for the success of his morning's work.
His appetizer recipe was the judge's unanimous choice for grand prize. The "pillows," which look like cookies but taste deliciously of crab, were served in a handcrafted wooden box and accompanied by cocktail sauce and melted cheese for dipping.
The Crab Cooking Contest, sponsored by the Hard Crab Derby and the Maryland Department of Agriculture's Seafood Marketing Program, has been held for 32 years as part of the National Hard Crab Derby and Fair in Crisfield.
Families, individuals and a lone teen-ager were among the 21 cooks preparing their favorite crab dishes this year.
The Dryden family of Georgetown, Del., entered husband and wife, Lit and Jo, and daughter, Christine. They snagged three category prizes for their work.
Ashley T. Hall of Ocean City, whose cream-of-crab soup earned her first prize in the soup category, drew considerable attention as a teen-ager competing alongside 20 adults. The 14-year-old cook, whose grandparents are past Crab Cooking Contest winners, stirred her soup patiently while her family watched from the back of the room. "She [grandmother Penny Carley] taught me almost everything I know about cooking, along with my mother [Tammy Tanner]," Hall said.
Did her grandmother give her any advice heading into her first competition? "Don't be nervous, and really just make yourself at home. I tried to make an atmosphere," said Hall, pointing to a potted cilantro plant from which she harvested cilantro for her soup.
First place in each of the four categories -- appetizer, soup, main dish and crab cake -- was worth $50. The grand-prize winner received an additional $50.
Helen Tomko, 68, has been entering the contest since she moved from Baltimore to Marion Station, near Crisfield, 10 years ago. Her Maryland Blue Crab Scrambled Eggs and Crab Meat didn't win a prize, but she enjoyed competing against her daughter, Helen Tomko; her son, Paul Tomko Jr., and the other cooks. "This is one thing I really like to do," she said. "Whether you win or lose, it's still fun."
The field of entrants included veterans and newcomers like Riggin. In addition to being the grand-prize winner, Riggin placed first in the appetizer category, followed by Asbury Parks of Salisbury with Black & Blue Crab Quesadillas, second; and Lillian Flugrath of Columbia with Kickin' Maryland Blue Crab Spread, third.
In the soup class, after Hall's first, were Madeline L. Hall of Berlin with Cream of Crab Asparagus Soup, second; and Jo Dryden of Georgetown, Del., with Crab Soup a la Oscar, third.
The main-dish category was won by John Scofield of Severn with Maryland Blue Crab Meat and Corn Fritters With Peach Salsa, followed by Lit Dryden of Georgetown with Crisfield Crabby Portobellos, second; and Phoebe Ferguson of Crisfield with Purely Devilish Maryland Blue Crab, third.
Dee T. Van Nest of Annapolis topped the crab-cake class with her Maryland Blue Crab Creamwiches, followed by Paul Tomko Jr. of Crisfield with Maryland Blue Crab Italian Battered Crab Cakes, second; and Christine Dryden of Georgetown with Tickled Pickled Crab Cakes, third.
Copies of all of this year's winning recipes won't be available until next year, but the Crab Cooking Contest sells a cookbook with winning recipes from previous years.
The book is $8 plus $3 postage. Checks should be made to the Crisfield Area Chamber of Commerce and mailed to Charlotte Daugherty, Co-Chair Cooking Contest, 5412 Frances Road, Crisfield, Md. 21817.
Rodney Riggin's Blue Jimmy Pillows
Makes 3 to 4 dozen pieces
1 cup chicken broth
1/2 cup vegetable oil
3 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
3 teaspoons parsley
1 teaspoon seasoned salt
1 teaspoon celery seed
1/2 teaspoon ground red pepper (or to taste)
1/2 teaspoon tarragon
1cup all-purpose flour
2 cups crab meat
In saucepan, combine chicken broth, vegetable oil, Worcestershire sauce, parsley, seasoned salt, celery seed, red pepper and tarragon. Bring to a boil; incorporate flour until blended. Once flour and ingredients are combined, set aside to cool. While that is cooling, beat eggs to a fluffy consistency. (The reason for letting the flour mixture cool is so it doesn't cook the eggs.)