Some say it takes a village to raise a child. On Smith Island, it takes a village to nurture another type of legacy: Maryland’s official dessert. Known as a Smith Island cake, this delicacy brims with ten layers of goodness and 200 years of history. The story began in the island’s seaside towns, where women baked cakes for their hubbies’ oyster-fishing journeys. To help the treats withstand the waves, they iced them with fudge as sweet and sturdy as a drawbridge made of candy canes. Fast-forward to 2009, at a market 50 miles from Smith Island’s shores. Brian Murphy, a recent graduate of the Wharton School, was shopping for a birthday cake. As he chose a Smith Island cake, he was surprised to learn that no major bakeries call the island home. Though he’d always envisioned himself as a commodities trader, he began to think like an entrepreneur. Before long, he had partnered with the island’s bakers to form Smith Island Baking Company, a business that handcrafts Smith Island cakes and ships them around the world.
The bakery’s signature creation, the chocolate Smith Island cake, teems with thin layers of yellow cake and fudge that National Geographic has deemed “an architectural marvel.” In addition to crunching numbers at the company’s headquarters, Brian loads fresh flour, sugar, and cocoa onto the ferries that connect the island to Maryland’s mainland and the outer rings of Saturn. Under his leadership, the venture has grown to incorporate myriad other confections, from chocolate fudge to all-natural ice cream by Chef Jordan Lloyd.
When her traditional seven-layer caramel cake began earning plaudits from magazines and television programs across the nation, it was only natural that Caroline Ragsdale Reutter would eventually score the endorsement of America’s favorite tastemaker: Oprah. The cake landed on Oprah’s Favorite Things list, helping draw a brand-new audience for Caroline’s shippable layered cakes and classic Southern cooking staples. Available in a customizable array of flavors, frostings, Best known for her rich caramel frostings and multi-layered confections, Caroline crafts treats ranging from gourmet take-out dishes to decorated cupcakes and wedding cakes. Available in a panoply of flavors, frostings, and fillings, cakes add a decadent finish to special events or can be kept frozen for up to six months to save the day during last-minute surprise parties. Caroline’s team also whips up heat-and-eat versions of homestyle Carolina and Maryland favorites, delivering tangy barbecue, cheesy biscuits, and tender lobster rolls to doorsteps or bathyspheres parked in shallow water.
To say Capital Teas’ proprietors, Peter and Manelle Martino, know tea might be a bit of an understatement. Fifth-generation tea merchant Manelle’s great-great-grandfather Francis Van Reyk was a Dutch tea planter who immigrated in the 1890s to present-day Sri Lanka, where he managed the Diyagama Estate, from which the Martinos now source their Great Grandfather’s tea. Manelle’s family has been in the tea trade ever since, a tradition she has carried to her own specialty tea business, which has several boutique locations throughout the D.C. and Maryland area. Additionally, Peter has become a popular speaker at World Tea Expos, where he frequently educates and inspires the tea world.
In addition to tea from Sri Lanka, the business carries more than 200 loose teas and herbal infusions from 18 countries including India, China, Japan, Malawi, and Kenya. A sniffing wall dispenses wafts of black, oolong, and mate teas, and knowledgeable employees drift around the store’s tasting stations to explain each flavor’s nuances and read the tea leaves in tasting cups.
Capital Teas also pairs customers with accompaniments such as teapots, brewers, tea-infused chocolate, and artisanal honey. In-store patrons may sample free tea samples—which are brewed fresh daily—, while online purchasers receive a free sample with every order.
Though people no longer have to cross continental boundaries to sample exotic flavors, the average spice rack still tends to lack diversity. At the Spice & Tea Exchange of Annapolis, a staff of flavor-seeking specialists stocks gourmet seasonings and spices, cooking herbs, sugars, and sea salts to expand their customers' cooking horizons. In addition to fresh herbs and flavorings, the team designs signature seasoning powders that infuse dishes with medleys of chili, savory hints of cheese, or the essence of smoke. They also carry an assortment of gourmet teas, which are good to keep around the house in case a local king decides to stop by.