Blessings of loaves and (rock) fishes on the eaters of '93


It was a very good year for bread, coffee and beer. That, in part, is what I think about 1993.

While other analysts sum up the past 12 months by figuring out who got rich or who got powerful, I tend to think of a year in terms of who ate well.

Bread eaters did. The loaves found in area stores, restaurants and bakeries got better last year. The breads had crisper crust, better body, more "there" there. The bread with the most there there was the couronne made by Stone Mill Bakery.

The coffee got darker last year. Espresso and all its flavored relatives have arrived en masse. Now, from the city markets to the suburban malls, you can get a cup of flavorful coffee.

Some of the new coffee creations are better than others. One of my favorites is the cafe latte flavored with hazelnuts sold at the Cross Street Cheese Company stand. But even the weaker newcomers are an improvement over the standard-issue cup of goop that once passed as coffee.

In beer we were blessed. The ranks of the state's established microbreweries -- Baltimore Brewing Co., Sisson's South Baltimore Brewing Co., Oxford Brewing Co., Wild Goose Brewing Co. in Cambridge -- were joined by the Wharf Rat, a new brew pub in downtown Baltimore, and by Frederick Brewing Co. in Western Maryland.

This meant more varieties of freshly brewed beer were available to the beer-drinking public. When a state has such good beer, who needs a pro football team?

Apparently a fair number of folks were not content merely to purchase good beer, bread and coffee. They want to make them at home. Increasing numbers of bread-making machines, espresso machines and home brewing kits were sold in stores.

It was a so-so year for Chesapeake Bay crabs. I have no data, just personal impressions from crab dinners. June's soft crabs were wonderful, plump and bursting with flavor.

At home I tried a new treatment for them, covering them in pecans and flour and sauteing them. The idea came from New Orleans chef Emeril Lagasse. His pecan-covered soft crabs were quite good, the second-best soft crabs I have ever tasted. The best were at the Milton Inn in Sparks, made by chef Mark Henry.

I had good luck early in the summer with hard crabs, picking up some heavy, flavorful carryout crabs in East Baltimore at Obrycki's Crab House and a week later in West Baltimore at Sea Pride Crab House. But as the summer wore on, the crabs seemed to fade. I remember eating at a crab feed in August, picking through a pile of male crabs that felt as light as the newspaper they were sitting on.

It was good news this year that rockfish, another delectable resident of the Chesapeake Bay, have made a comeback. In the fall watermen caught them, truckers brought them to market, and many of us ate them, sighing and thanking the great power of the universe for giving us such a magnificent supper.

However, not all the news this year associated with rockfish was lighthearted. Late in the season, storms in Kent County's Chester River and off Point Lookout in St. Mary's County claimed the lives of five men fishing for rockfish. The grim news reminds me that nature not only gives but takes away as well.

On another front, the battle over the health effects of alcohol seemed to take a turn last year in favor of the "wets." In previous years, few doctors would speak up for alcohol. But this year, scholars like Dr. Dimitrios Trichopoulos, chairman of the department of epidemiology at Harvard University's School of Public Health, said moderate amounts of wine had more health benefits than risks for most healthy adults.

Such support seemed to alter society's image of the drinker. You are no longer a social pariah if you drink, as long as you drink moderately.

It seemed that the big trend in beverages was the increased popularity of iced tea. Once confined to summertime socials, iced tea showed up at more parties than "Entertainment Tonight."

One of the most popular brands of canned iced tea, Arizona Iced Tea, is made in a wing of a Baltimore-area brewery, the G. Heileman Brewing Co.

This year also marked the first time I made iced tea the "cool way." Instead of pouring hot water on the tea, I soaked the tea in cold water for three hours.

I wouldn't say it changed my life, but it made the iced tea taste better. That is progress on the flavor front.

And that, year after year, is what I shoot for.

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