- The Washington Times - Friday, April 25, 2008

ANNAPOLIS (AP) — An unusual multilayered cake that has sparked national interest in a remote Chesapeake Bay island with fewer than 100 year-round residents is now Maryland’s official dessert.

The bakers of Smith Island hope their cake’s designation is just the first slice of better things to come for the island, once a thriving watermen’s community that now has little to export but the cakes because of the decline in crabs and oysters.

“I hope it helps all of us,” said Mary Ada Marshall, showing off her nine layers of yellow cake with chocolate frosting yesterday. Earlier, Gov. Martin O’Malley grinned as he signed into law a bill making the Smith Island cake Maryland’s official dessert.

The cake — which comes in dozens of flavors, but is always seven or more layers, sometimes towering at 12 centimeter-thick layers — has sparked so much interest in the island that residents are thinking big.

Miss Marshall is talking about holding baking classes in her kitchen. A local tourism director hopes foodies will flock to the island to try the cake. Locals say they are floored by how much attention the cakes have gotten, and they hope to strike while the oven’s hot.

“This thing’s going to keep ripping,” said Jim Rapp, head of a nonprofit called Delmarva Low-Impact Tourism Experiences. Tourism officials have designated a series of water trails around the island, which they will open today. The cake designation, Mr. Rapp hopes, will bring more tourists there.

“The message will get out that the best place to eat a Smith Island cake is on Smith Island,” he said.

The cake has brought so much attention to the region that locals seem a little overwhelmed by it all. Dana Evans, who grew up on Smith Island and now sells the cakes from a bakery in nearby Salisbury, Md., recently started shipping her cakes after a flood of phone inquiries.

“It’s been remarkable,” said Miss Evans, who sells the cakes for $27 to $35.

Miss Marshall, who bakes her cakes in her kitchen, said she is thinking about charging $20 or so per person for small baking lessons on how to make the unusual cakes. Nowadays, Miss Marshall keeps her kitchen ready for company anyway — the Travel Channel and the New York Times have visited recently for pieces about her cakes.

“I couldn’t believe it,” she said of the attention Smith Island cakes have gotten since being suggested as Maryland’s state dessert. Already, she said, the cakes are as important as the seafood coming out of Smith Island.

“If it wasn’t for the cakes, the post office would close,” Miss Marshall said, adding that only about 60 people live on Smith Island year-round.

Even those who pitched the designation to drum up attention said they were surprised by how much ink the cakes got.

“I don’t think when anyone introduced the bill anyone thought it would generate this kind of publicity,” said Delegate D. Page Elmore, a Republican who represents Smith Island and introduced the designation.

Mr. Elmore joked that a more important bill — related to property tax assessments in his county — was completely ignored by the press. “But the New York Times was calling every day to see if the cake bill passed,” Mr. Elmore said. “I was surprised it got that much attention. I still am.”

The Smith Island cake joins the blue crab, the Baltimore Oriole and the Chesapeake Bay Retriever as official symbols of the state. Another symbols bill, which would make walking the official state exercise, awaits the governor’s signature. Smith Island fans hope the cake is remembered more than some often-forgotten symbols, such as the state cat (calico) and the state sport (jousting).

“This really is a piece of heritage, a piece of national heritage,” said Sharon Sheuer, executive director of the Lower Eastern Shore Heritage Council.

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