The 100% Senate-Approved Recipe for Maryland Crabcakes

A Maryland crabcake. Source: Flickr/m01229.

A Maryland crabcake. Source: Flickr/m01229.

On January 21, 1963, the subject of debate in the United States Senate suddenly turned to crabcakes. The Honorable James Glenn Beall, Senator from Maryland, rose to speak:

Mr. HILL. Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the Senator from Maryland may be recognized at this time, with the understanding that I do not lose my right to the floor.

THE PRESIDING OFFICER. Is there any objection? Without objection, it is so ordered.

Mr. BEALL. Mr. President, I rise to defend the fair name of the great Free State of Maryland against an insult. Just as the distinguished Senators from Georgia would resent a knotty little peach being called “a Georgia peach,” just as the Senators from Idaho would resent a puny little spud being called “an Idaho potato,” just as the distinguished Senators from Maine would resent a crawfish being called “a Maine lobster,” and just as the Senators from Kentucky would resent cheap bourbon being called “Kentucky bourbon,” I resent the crabcakes being served in the Senate dining room being called “Maryland crabcakes.” On the menu, it says, bold and brazen, “Maryland crabcakes,” but no Marylander would recognize what is served. Now, I do not say that the crabcakes served in the Senate dining room are bad; I simply say they fall short of “Maryland crabcakes,” that tasty dish which has helped to make the name “Maryland” loved throughout the Nation. Patrons of our dining room should be protected from deception. I want the world to know that those crabcakes are not “Maryland crabcakes.”

Mr. HILL. I may say to the Senator that we would like to have demonstration of the superiority of Maryland crabcakes to those served in the Senate dining room.

Mr. BEALL. I promise the Senator from Alabama that that will be done. I thank him for yielding to me. I ask unanimous consent to have an extract from today’s menu printed in the Record.

109 Cong. Rec. 627 (Jan. 21, 1963).

Apparently a controversy had been brewing ever since Beall had denounced the cracker-heavy crabcakes served in the Senate dining room as tasting of “sawdust.” The dining room’s chefs were subsequently trained in proper crabcake preparation by the staff of Thompson’s Sea Girt House, “an ancient Baltimore restaurant.”At a luncheon introducing the new and improved recipe, Senators devoured nearly 400 crabcakes, and hundreds more were dispatched to their counterparts in the House. Thompson’s, now long gone, quickly surged in popularity, with celebrities, including Frank Sinatra, having the restaurant’s crabcakes express-shipped to them by air.

Of the soliloquy on the Senate floor, one reporter noted Beall voiced his protest “in a ringing oration that undoubtedly will cause him to be remembered as the crustaceans’ Patrick Henry.” Meanwhile other newspapers was less enthused about the “crab cake crisis” and wished the Senate would turn its attention to issues of greater import.

Beall took pains to note his views were “strictly nonpartisan” as he had permission to disseminate the crabcake recipe of the wife of Maryland’s then Governor, Democrat J. Millard Tawes:

1 pound crab claw meat
2 eggs
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 tablespoon Kraft’s horseradish mustard
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
dash of Tabasco sauce
1 tablespoon parsley, chopped

Combine all above ingredients including the unbeaten eggs and mix lightly together. Form mixture into desired size of cake or croquette. Do not pack firmly, but allow the mixture to be light and spongy. Roll out a package of crackers into fine crumbs. Do not use prepared cracker crumbs. Then pat the crumbs lightly on the crab cake and fry in deep fat just until golden brown. Remove from hot fat just as soon as golden brown. Drain on absorbent paper and serve hot.

Mrs. Tawes was apparently renowned for her old Maryland cookery, preparing a batch of terrapin soup to be flown to Winston Churchill in London and, in a fit of creativity, inventing the crab burger for the 1964 World’s Fair in New York. She authored a booklet, My Favorite Maryland Recipes, which remained a favorite of cookbook collectors for decades after its first publication. Beall even offered to distribute copies of Mrs. Tawes’s booklet to his hungry colleagues in the Senate.

Half a century later, Maryland Senator Barbara Mikulski includes another recipe for Maryland crabcakes on her official Senate website. While I’m quite sure Mrs. Tawes’s crabcakes were delicious, Mikulski’s recipe calls for multiple teaspoons of Old Bay – the spice blend of the gods – and is therefore clearly far superior to Mrs. Tawes’s.

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