Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Happy 70th to Old Bay

What's the best way to get a container of Old Bay seasoning through an airport security checkpoint? Believe it or not, someone has pondered this question.

The Old Bay-through-the-airport challenge is one of several amusing anecdotes in this article from today's Washington Post. The Post's Jane Black explores people's intense devotion to Old Bay -- the Tabasco of the mid-Atlantic region:
Only a select group of foods can claim the cult status of Old Bay. As the spice celebrates its 70th anniversary, the retro-, primary-colored can is a visual icon as familiar to many as Campbell Soup.

. . . Old Bay Seasoning was the invention of Gustav Brunn, a German Jew who emigrated to Baltimore in 1938. An experienced spice merchant, Brunn soon landed a job at McCormick & Co., which wanted him to develop blends for meatpackers who were making products including sausages and hot dogs.

It was a short gig: Two days after being hired, he was let go because he was Jewish, says his son Ralph, now 84. (McCormick spokeswoman Laurie Harrsen says the company has no records of Brunn's firing and points to its "longstanding commitment to diversity.")
Can you say: "corporate damage control"?
If it weren't for the firing, Old Bay might never have come into being.

In September 1939, Brunn rented a second-floor office and opened the Baltimore Spice Co. across from the city's wholesale fish market. Seafood merchants would come in and buy a few pounds of black pepper, red pepper and celery seed, Ralph remembers: "He was curious what concoctions they were making. With his background and experience, he thought maybe he could improve on it."
Evidently, he did. You just can't make a crabcake without Old Bay.

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