Currently viewing the tag: "Chesapeake Bay"

by Buck Reed

Old Bay…It’s a Maryland Thang, Hon

Maryland and, more importantly, the Chesapeake Bay has firmly established itself as a kingdom of seafood. We are known for our oysters, shrimp, and, of course, our Maryland crabs. And, what real Marylander doesn’t know that crabs are firmly linked to Old Bay seasoning? I would wager that every local home that boasts a real cook in the house will also have a can of this spice blend in the kitchen. Let’s face it, the stuff is a Maryland staple.

It all started in the late 1930s when a German immigrant, named Gustav Brunn, came to Baltimore with the clothes on his back and a spice grinder under his arm. Being a spice merchant before the politics of his homeland forced him out, he quickly established himself as a good business man and secured a loan to open a spice shop in the Market Place in Baltimore, which was a hub for purchasing fresh seafood. The Baltimore Spice Company was ideally situated with plenty of German customers, and they introduced a blend of 18 spices that was dubbed Delicious Brand Shrimp and Crab Seasoning. It took some time and persuasion, but Gustav was finally able to convince one crab monger to try his spice. Once they did, it took off like wildfire. Suddenly, everyone wanted it for their home kitchen. Later, it changed its name for a passenger ship that traveled from Baltimore to Norfolk, called the Old Bay Line, which was a shorter name and eventually became a household brand.

As most Maryland cooks know, this spice blend is great on crabs, shrimp, and most any seafood. Yet, we also understand that this product can go on just about anything, and most likely will.

Roasted chicken is one of my favorites, and if you are ordering wings, there is almost always an Old Bay option on the menu. I would also say it is a pretty good substitute for a steak blend that comes from Montreal. You can season hash browns or roasted potatoes with it, and more than a few vegetables are pretty tasty with this stuff. Think grilled corn on the cob with Old Bay.

Using it to flavor a compound butter or mayonnaise might also step up your game. Also try it on fresh popcorn or French fries. It will also add some zing to your Bloody Mary, or if you dare, order your next Martini with Old Bay.

Maryland crab soup must include Old Bay, as should crab cakes. I would also add it to any chowder that is found in New England. Salads also work well with this spice, and not just the ones with seafood.

There really isn’t much that you cannot use Old Bay in or on. Can you imagine that there are a couple of Old Bay ice cream products out there? If you cannot find them, just sprinkle some Old Bay onto your favorite vanilla ice cream.

Today, Old Bay is owned and produced by the McCormick Spice Company, with the same recipe as the first day it was sold. Yet, it doesn’t really matter who is selling it or where it is sold, Old Bay will always find a home in the Maryland pantry.

The first time the words “oyster and supper” appear together in the history of the Graceham Moravian Church is in the form of an entry in The History of Graceham, Frederick County, Maryland by Rev. A.L. Oerter, A.M. The book is compiled, in part, from diary entries of pastors from the church’s formation in 1758  through 1908. The Reverend Maurice F. Oerter’s diary entry from March 2, 1900, reads: “The Ladies’ Aid Society gave an oyster-supper in the lecture-room.” The lecture-room being an area behind the sanctuary as it existed at that time. While no prices are given, or amounts raised, the Ladies’ Aid Society, formed in 1889, was already noted in the diaries for holding suppers and “carrying on it’s good work of raising funds for church purposes, in which [it] has been very successful, having contributed material aid towards the various enterprises of the congregation.”

Oysters, an expensive dish today, were once considered an inexpensive delicacy due to their abundance in the Chesapeake Bay, which may help to explain how they came to be a fixture on the menu of a church far from the bay waters.

The “supper,” as it’s come to be known, eventually settled on a menu of turkey, oysters, and all the sides, served in the spring and the fall. Although the records referenced ham and beef at various times, the one constant throughout the history has been the oysters. Served family-style and all-you-can-eat, Graceham’s fried oysters, dipped in a “secret blend” and “patted” in cracker crumbs, draw in diners by the hundreds each year. The supper has long since moved from a Ladies’ Aid (now called Women’s Fellowship) function to a church-wide event, with everyone from youth serving the tables to more senior helpers in their 80’s and even 90’s volunteering in the kitchen. Planning begins months ahead, and the week prior to the supper is filled with the preparation of hundreds of pounds of turkey, pans of stuffing and cole slaw, cakes baked, the grinding of almost 200 boxes of saltine crackers, and finally, the preparation of green beans, sauerkraut, mashed potatoes, and gallons of oysters, patted and deep fried fresh the day of the supper. The supper is truly a community event, with all food purchased from local businesses and volunteers from 4-H and Girl Scout troops assisting.

Ask almost any Graceham member, and they will have a memory of helping with the supper, some stretching back 70 years. Life-time member Ann Miller remembers her grandmother, Sylvia Fisher, working the “cake table,” cutting slices from a variety of homemade cakes, arranging them on glass serving dishes to be  presented to diners for dessert along with their coffee.

 Most members will also tell you the experience of pulling off such a large undertaking is as much about the camaraderie and fellowship of working toward a common goal and serving the community as it is about fundraising.

After a four-year break, the Spring 2024 Turkey and Oyster Supper—to the delight of many in the community—is back! The supper will be held Saturday, March 23, from noon to 6:00 p.m. Tickets are $30.00 for adults, $15.00 for youth (ages 6-12), and free for ages five and under. Tickets can be purchased the day of the supper.

Richard D. L. Fulton

Nearly all 50 states in the United States have designated one or more species of prehistoric life as a state fossil. Of the 47 states having done so, 3 state fossils are plants, while the remaining 44 states have prehistoric animals as their state fossils. 

The State of Maryland opted to designate a fossil snail as the state fossil but ran into a couple of problematic issues along the way. 

The state fossil of Maryland is a circa 19-million-year-old marine snail (gastropod) known as Ecphora, which is found in Maryland among the bayside cliffs that make up an assemblage of geologic formations designated as the Chesapeake Group.

There was, of course, no Chesapeake Bay when Ecphora existed, which was during a period of time referred to as the Miocene Epoch, when the Atlantic Ocean had made a major incursion into Maryland in the form of a large bay (referred to as the Salisbury Embayment). The shoreline of this bay, which stretched from west of Washington, D.C., and Baltimore, rejoined the main oceanic shoreline in the Philadelphia area.

Shell collectors might likely be familiar with the showy, modern murex shells of the subtropical and tropical seas. Ecphora was a prehistoric member of the murex family.

The Maryland General Assembly designated Ecphora as the state fossil in 1984, and then things got a little wacky from there.

First and foremost, the state chose Ecphora because it was claimed to have been the first fossil that had been collected in the New World and described by scientist Martin Lister in 1770. 

Problem number one was, contrary to popular belief among the sciences at the time, Ecphora was not the first fossil described from the New World. That honor actually belonged to a species of Chesapecten (an extinct scallop) that shared the 19-million-year-old sea with Ecphora. Chesapecten was described by Lister in 1687, according to the Maryland Geological Survey.

Nevertheless, under somewhat false pretense, Ecphora remained as the state fossil until 1994, when problem number two reared its head. Someone realized (more likely a paleontologist, who studies ancient plant and animal life) that the state had the wrong species of Ecphora. It appears that the species of Ecphora the state named as the state fossil actually only occurred in Virginia.

To be honest, naming a Virginia species of Ecphora, rather than a Maryland species, cannot be blamed entirely on the state. 

Since the original 1984 state fossil designation, research on the Ecphora became a little more complicated…and it all came down to species.

The species of Ecphora named as the state fossil in 1984 was a species known as Ecphora quadricostata, a species initially described in 1861. However,  further research determined in 1987 that Ecphora quadricostata only occurred south of Maryland. The Maryland “Ecphora quadricostata” was then renamed Ecphora gardnerae in 1987.

To complicate matters further, it was subsequently determined in 1988 that the Maryland Ecphora gardnerae was slightly different than an actual Ecphora gardnerae, and a subspecies name was then added in order to reflect this, thereby resulting in the state fossil now being Ecphora gardnerae gardnerae.

Maryland finally “threw in the towel,” and, on October 1, 1994, the Maryland General Assembly redesignated the official state fossil of Maryland as Ecphora gardnerae gardnerae.

Anyone interested in obtaining a specimen of the state fossil from one of the fossil sites should take a day trip to the Western Shore of the Chesapeake.  A list of potential fossil sites and collecting tips can be found at (

Always make certain that the beach being accessed is not private property.  Additionally, digging in the cliffs is prohibited anywhere along the Western Shore to prevent landslides.

A good starting point would be to visit the Calvert Cliffs State Park in Lusby. Fossil collecting along the beach is permitted. Directions and additional information can be found on the Maryland Department of Natural Resources website at

Maryland’s Ancient Dogs

Richard D. L. Fulton

Long before humans traversed the plains and forests of Maryland, and millions of years before the Chesapeake Bay even existed, there were the “Bone Crushers.”

This Maryland version of The Land That Time Forgot occurred some 12 to 20 million years ago, when the Atlantic Ocean had made a major incursion into Maryland in the form of a large bay (referred to as the Salisbury Embayment). The shoreline of this bay, which stretched from west of Washington, D.C. and Baltimore, rejoined the main oceanic shoreline in the Philadelphia area.

This was during a period of time referred to as the Miocene Epoch, when the Maryland waters were patrolled by 50- to 60-foot sharks in search of whatever they needed to kill in order to sustain their growth and size.

But “Bone Crusher” was not a shark. It was a dog (in fact two different species of dog), that were members of a group scientifically known as Borophaginae, which literally translates from Latin to “gluttonous eater.” Specifically, the two species of bone crushers that have been recovered from the Chesapeake Bay fossil deposits have been tentatively named Cynarctus marylandica and Cynarctus wangi.

In Maryland, only a few teeth of the Cynarctus have been recovered from the escarpments along the western shores of the Chesapeake, known as the Calvert Cliffs. While these cliffs are primarily clay, marl, and sand beds deposited in the oceanic Salisbury Embayment, occasionally, the remains of land animals are found whose teeth and bones had been washed into the ocean via rivers and streams in which proximity the animals had lived and died.

The Borophaginae, Cynarctus included, received the nickname “bone crusher” because the teeth of the animals were clearly adept at smashing the bones of their no-doubt sometimes sizeable prey—whether live-killed or scavenged—to smithereens, presumably to gain access to the marrow. Modern hyenas have similar teeth for crushing bones.

It has been generally held that climate change (during which period of time the climate was becoming more arid) taking place during the Early Miocene Epoch resulted in the reduction of lush vegetation, which in turn, resulted in the expansion of grasslands. 

Because this change in habitats likely impacted the proliferation of plant-eating prey of the carnivores, the “fine art” of bone crushing evolved to allow these carnivores to extract more nutrients from each kill than that faced by carnivores of lusher times. Modern-day hyenas, who developed similar teeth, also live in an arid climate.

“In this respect, they are believed to have behaved in a similar way to hyenas today,” according to the primary author of a research paper discussing one of the new Cynarctus species, Steven E. Jasinski. Jasinski is a paleontologist and zoologist, employed by the Department of Environmental Science and Sustainability at Harrisburg University of Science and Technology.

Maryland’s bone-crushing Cynarctus were not big dogs, having apparently been about the size of a coyote. Also, researchers believe that Cynarctus may not have depended entirely on meat and bone-crushing for their diet, but may have also added insects and even plants to their diet, according to  published a synopsis of the research paper, describing Cynarctus on their website, noting “Despite its strong jaws, the researchers believe C. wangi wouldn’t have been wholly reliant on meat to sustain itself.”

Some other attributes had been deduced from crushed bones and coprolites (excretion) found at fossil sites outside of Maryland, bearing traces of the Borophaginae. It may have been possible that Cynarctus was a social pack hunter (like modern-day wolves), and that bone-crushing served as a social activity for the pack.

In addition, coprolite pile clusters have been found in areas inhabited by Borophaginae, which would suggest they were left as territory markers, also according to a research paper published by multiple researchers, including Xiaoming Wang.

Cynarctus existed for about 5.7 million years, becoming extinct by the end of the Late-Miocene or the early stages of the period of time that followed.

Painting: An artist rendition of a member of the Borophaginae. Painted by Charles R. Knight, 1902, Public Domain.

Illustration of a Cynarctus Skull

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Grace Eyler

Nearby in Carroll Valley, Pennsylvania, an avid fisherman and his family construct top-notch saltwater fishing rods that have become well-known around the Chesapeake Bay waters. The family business is called JLS Custom Rods.

The inspiration for the business began when Ron Buffington set out to solve his dissatisfaction with saltwater fishing rods that he was using to fish in the Chesapeake Bay.  He felt the commercially mass-produced rods fell short on quality. The line guides were too few or too small, and the quality of the overall rod, even on high-end models, was going down.

“I just wanted to build my own stuff, and I wanted to be able to build a rod the way I want in order to hold up to strong migratory saltwater fish,” said Ron.

Determined to learn how to build his own rod, Ron sought out training tips from watching videos online and asking questions in online forums. As a result, he created the “perfect storm” of a product. Ron describes his rods as “light and sensitive and built well to hold up against harsh bay conditions and big saltwater fish!” Most importantly, Ron knew his rods “had to be made with high-quality components.”

Ron is proud that all the parts on the rods are sourced from the USA (including his proprietary rod blanks hand made in Arizona), with one exception. He uses Fuji guides and components. These are considered well-known parts that are manufactured in China to “gold standards” for high-end rods. He commented, “Japanese build the best of the best; they are very serious about their fishing.”

It takes anywhere between three to five hours to make a rod over the span of several days. Everyone in the family has a roll in the business. Ron’s duties include a little bit of everything: ordering, negotiating sales, designing with clients, and assembling his rods. Ron’s wife, Jaime, assists Ron with the assembly, as well as graphics and marketing for the business. Their son, Hunter (17), manages the social media and website content.

Both Ron, who works at Lehigh Cement, and Jaime, who works for Wellspan, have full-time careers. They fit JLS into their hectic schedules. Ron’s average day runs four to six hours of sleep, eight hours of work at Lehigh, and then six to eight hours on rod-building at home. The family has the building process down to a systematic process. While six to eight rods are turning to dry the epoxy, another set of rods are getting handles, guides, and components put on. He admitted, “This year, we’ll be hiring help.”

As of now, 30-40 percent of their business continues to be custom builds. As they keep expanding, JLS projects to go from 200-300 rods a year to as many as 1,000 in 2021.

Ron has concocted a perfect recipe for his rods, which landed his small business into the big ocean of the fishing industry. Specifically, JLS is filling the niche of “light tackle saltwater rods.” At present, no other company really focuses on this niche.

As business picked up, and the JLS name for a quality rod began to spread in the bay area, this provided JLS a great opportunity to start to retail the products in commercial storefronts. Currently, they are available in a handful of shops, such as Angler’s and Island Tackle Outfitters. Most rods that you see on the store floor will range between $130-$200. For a custom build, they start at $200 and go up.

One of the neat aspects of the retailing on the shore is that Ron’s products are alongside other well-known products such as Bass Kandy Delight (BKD)—Ron’s go-to bait when he hits the brackish saltwater. He notes, not only is BKD another local company right out of Waynesboro, Pennylsvania, but many lures and things of such are locally made in the Chesapeake radius.

If you’re not ready to invest in a light-tackle rod, you can always schedule a charter to try one out. Ron works with six bay-area “best of the best” guides, including Captain Jamie Clough of Eastern Shore Light Tackle Charters, Captain Tony Moriera of Morefins Charters, Captain Brad Foxwell of Chesapeake Fishing Adventures, Captain Nick Lombardi of Redbeard’s Charters, and Captain Lonnie Johnson LJ’s light.

Even if you’re vacationing in Florida, you may come across a JLS rod on the peninsula. “Down there, you have a much bigger pool of rod builders who are kind of doing what I’m doing.” Ron recognizes the competing products are not built the same way and notes that JLS has entered the Florida Market and is selling some rods there.

Ron’s motivation for building a better rod has resonated with individual clients, as well as fishing charter captains and guides. Ron said, “They could use any other rod. It’s a real honor for them to choose to use our products on their boats.” He appreciates all who religiously use his rods and feels the products help everyone’s livelihood.

Ron loves to see captains and clients send in pictures of their trophy catch. Often, he finds JLS being recommended from one angler to another, online. Ron and his family also do what they can to help conservation efforts on the Chesapeake Bay by actively participating in the Coastal Conservation Association of Maryland and sponsoring other activities such as local tournaments and benefit banquets. One example is the Tangier Classic, which every year selects a local youth in need to benefit. All activities help spread awareness of the Chesapeake waters and help people in need. He also takes an hour or so each month to go live on social media to educate his followers about fishing, the parts they use and why they use them, and to answer any questions.

The best advice Ron has for all of us is, “Go fishing more and join a local fishing club in your area.” It’s really a great way to get the family outside or get friends together and create some new fun memories.

Next time you’re on your way to the bay, stop in and pick up a handmade rod made by the Buffington Family of JLS. It might just land you a big one! Like any good angler, you’ll at least have a rod that will make your fishing story believable.

If you are interested in purchasing a custom-built rod, contact JLS through Facebook, Instagram, or online at

Ron Buffington displays the catch of the day, a 38” striped bass, caught with his very own custom rod.

Jaime Buffington carefully adds fine details to one of their custom rods.