History spices bay feast

Book: An Annapolis waterman weaves black experiences and seafood recipes into a tasty Chesapeake Bay package, `Ebony Eyes.'

February 17, 2000|By TaNoah Morgan | TaNoah Morgan,SUN STAFF

A new seafood recipe book by Annapolis waterman Vincent O. Leggett captures more than the flavor of the Chesapeake Bay between its covers.

It also offers a look at the lives and images of the bay's African-American captains, fishermen, crab pickers, oyster shuckers and boat builders framing a sampling of recipes from more than a dozen ports.

"The Chesapeake Bay Through Ebony Eyes," released in December through the Blacks of the Chesapeake Foundation, is Leggett's latest effort to weave African-American maritime experiences into the bay legacy.

The group will sponsor a book signing, reception and concert Sunday featuring poetry of the bay from Melanie Redding, who is featured in the book, and songs of the sea by Kindred Spirits, a contemporary a capella gospel group from Eastern United Methodist Church in Baltimore.

The book signing is from noon to 3 p.m. at the Historic Annapolis Foundation Maritime Museum Store, and the reception and concert begin at 3: 30 p.m. at O'Brien's Raw Bar and Restaurant.

"It runs contrary to everything that people have seen and heard for the last 200 years -- African-Americans were part of bay history," Leggett said. "From getting crabs to building boats, all the stops along the way, to bringing the dish out on a silver platter, blacks were a part of that process."

Leggett has been collecting interviews, photographs, records and history about black maritime workers throughout Anne Arundel County and the Eastern Shore for 15 years.

Three years ago, he self-published "Blacks of the Chesapeake," a 24-page pictorial history book showing the black presence on the bay and put together an exhibit of photographs and records that was displayed at the World Trade Center in Baltimore. Most of the 2,000 copies of the book were given to schools, visitors to the exhibits and potential sponsors to help foster awareness of the African-American maritime experience.

By last May, so much interest was expressed in his work that Leggett created the Blacks of the Chesapeake Foundation, a nonprofit history and preservation group that paid the $15,000 publication cost of the latest book. Leggett is president of the group, which offers lectures, exhibits and field trips for students in addition to funding writing projects.

The 32-page "Ebony Eyes," like its predecessor, includes images of black watermen, their vessels and their catches of blue crabs, oysters, fish and clams. Included in the text are poems inspired by bay workers and reflections from Leggett.

At the center of the book are recipes from around the bay -- mostly ports in Maryland -- from the notable black cooks Leggett met on his journeys.

Annapolis is crowned with its own crab cake recipe that calls for evaporated milk and a dash of cayenne pepper, while the version from Solomon's Island -- a breaded variation -- adds red bell pepper, parsley and celery and mayonnaise to hold it together.

Crisfield, a popular fishing and crabbing port in Somerset County, gets the credit for an unusual, cream-based crab soup, and recipes for baked catfish and scalloped oysters hail from Bessie Smith of Pikesville and Gertrude Gross of Lothian.

Vincent Leggett will sell and sign copies of "The Chesapeake Bay Through Ebony Eyes" from noon to 3 p.m. Sunday at the Historic Annapolis Foundation Maritime Museum Store at the Annapolis City Dock, across from the Kunta Kinte statue.

A reception and concert will be held from 3: 30 p.m. to 6: 30 p.m. at O'Brien's Raw Bar, 113 Main St. The cost is $10 at the door. Donations benefit the Blacks of the Chesapeake Foundation.

Recipes

These recipes are taken from "The Chesapeake Bay Through Ebony Eyes."

Annapolis Crab Cakes

2 cups crab meat

1 cup soft bread crumbs

2 eggs

1/2 cup light cream or evap. milk

1/2 teaspoon salt

dash of cayenne

1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

1/2 teaspoon dry mustard

1 teaspoon grated onion

1 teaspoon chopped parsley

Shred the crab meat, discarding any shell. Combine the crab meat and bread crumbs. In a separate bowl, beat eggs until light, adding the cream or evaporated milk. Add the milk-egg mixture to the crab meat. Stir in salt, cayenne, Worcestershire sauce, dry mustard, onion and parsley. Mix well. You may add more seasonings to taste. Scoop out a portion of the mixture and shape into small patties. Fry in hot butter, turning once to brown both sides.

Mother Bessie Smith's

Baked Catfish

4 medium-size catfish 2 teaspoons black pepper

1 large onion, sliced

4 tablespoons flour 2 teaspoons garlic salt

2 tablespoons parsley flakes

2 tablespoons bacon drippings

1/2 cup water

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place prepared fish in a baking pan. Add bacon drippings, parsley, pepper and salt. Cover with sliced onions and sprinkle flour over mixture. Add water. Bake until well done.

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