A gastronomic road trip through Talbot County

Reed Hellman

Maryland’s Talbot County has long been the home of two disparate cultures. Watermen and farmers worked the waters and land, while wealthy businessmen and politicians sought Talbot’s bounty for recreation and retirement. Combining the two cultures created a unique spectrum of gastronomic opportunities and makes for an intriguing culinary road trip,

On the county’s northern border, the Old Wye Mill in Wye Mills celebrates Talbot’s traditional foodways. The oldest working mill in Maryland dates from 1682 and still uses a waterwheel to turn heavy millstones that grind a variety of grains. Millers explain the milling process and visitors can purchase freshly ground corn meal, stone-ground whole wheat, and gluten-free buckwheat to make fantastic, nutty-flavored pancakes.

South from Wye Mills along the Ocean Highway, Councell Farms also celebrates Talbot’s agricultural heritage. Eleven generations of the family have farmed and sold their produce along the highway. To serve the burgeoning agritourism market, Councell added an ice cream parlor and the “Field of Fun,” a children’s play area of benignly repurposed farm and agriculture-related objects.

For a taste of the Eastern Shore’s maritime history, turn west down the mantis-shaped Bay Hundred peninsula to St. Michaels. Once a sleepy boat-building and fishing village, the town was “discovered” and now, along with galleries, shops, and the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum, hosts several essential stops on any gastronomic tour.

Olivins is not the typical olive oil and vinegar specialty shop. Along with 100 balsamic vinegars, 40 extra virgin olive oils, and high-end syrups, relishes, and condiments, the tasting room is staffed by knowledgeable guides.

Flamingo Flats, across Talbot Street from Olivins, is one of the nation’s “oldest purveyors of hot sauces.” The “tasting bar” offers an extensive selection of more than 2,500 varieties of sauces, condiments, spices, and pickles. Flamingo Flats also stocks its own brands of salsas and seasonings and products from other local, small-batch producers.

One of St. Michael’s newer gastronomic additions, Lyon Distilling Company is a “small-batch, craft distillery” producing several rums and liquors. Ben Lyon, the distiller, also makes a Traditional Maryland rye whiskey and “Beersky,” putting beer through the traditional distillation process to produce a whiskey.

Tilghman Island, at the “outboard” end of the Bay Hundred, still hosts a working fleet of crabbing, fishing, and oystering boats. Tilghman also recently added tourism to its resume.

The sunset view from nearby Black Walnut Point, followed by a night in the Lazyjack Inn opens a window onto a tidewater culture that dates back to Maryland’s origins. At Two If By Sea, chef Henry Miller incorporates local fare into his recipes and was voted “Best Breakfast on the Eastern Shore” for four years by What’s Up Eastern Shore magazine. Miller makes his own jams, jellies, pies, and pastries, and also gives cooking classes.

Easton’s varied food scene

Easton is Talbot’s county seat, largest city, and home to several top-level restaurants. Out of the Fire Cafe continually receives accolades, as does Scossa Restaurant. But, Easton has more than just fine dining.

The Gluten Free Bakery Girl, in Easton Market Square, is the Eastern Shore’s only gluten-free baker, making everything from breads to wedding cakes. Tricia King’s wide selection of cookies, brownies, cakes, and tarts taste as good as conventional baked goods, but will not affect people allergic to wheat gluten.

The best cream of crab soup in Talbot County may come from the Easton Antiques and Art Gallery, not a restaurant or seafood store. Shore Boys cream of crab soup can set a benchmark for taste, quality, and richness.

“We produce 1,000 pints each week,” said owner John Dodson. “It’s all natural with lots of crab meat. We distribute to 75 regional groceries.”

Also in Easton, The BBQ Joint dishes up classic barbecue appetizers, sandwiches, and platters. The meats are all-natural and free of any growth hormones or antibiotics, and smoked for 13 hours on hickory. Along with the proteins, all side dishes and desserts are house-made, and the barbecue is presented with a choice of five sauces and four rubs.

Across the Tred Avon River, Oxford is home to the venerable Robert Morris Inn. For more than three centuries, the inn has been serving meals and welcoming travelers. Along with the traditional fine Chesapeake menu, chef Mark Salter also conducts cooking classes and specialty dinners, including a mixology dinner and a coffee dinner.

For dessert, Scottish Highlands Creamery has earned a reputation for innovation, creativity, and excellent ice cream. Thanks to the passion of Victor Barlow, a transplanted Scotsman, the creamery offers a staggering 600 flavors to try.

CORN PUDDING

Courtesy of Councell Farms

1/4 cup sugar

3 tablespoons flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

6 eggs

2 cups whipping cream

1/2 cup melted butter

6 cups fresh corn

Mix together the sugar, flour, baking powder, and salt; set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together eggs, whipping cream, and butter. Add dry ingredients and stir well.

Pour mixture into a 9-inch by 13-inch baking dish and bake at 350 F for 45 minutes or until set and golden brown.

Reed Hellman is a professional writer living in Alberton, Md. Visit reedhellmanwordsmith.com or email questions and comments to rhway2go@yahoo.com.

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