Gustav Brunn was a german immigrant to Baltimore, who in 1939 started to sell a spice blend that would later come to be known as Old Bay. According to the Old Bay website, his store was on market pl, across from the fish market, which would put it somewhere in the modern day powerplant live area. I’ll see if I can track down the real location for a future post.
Gustav’s blend has taken over the hearts of Marylanders in the last 70 years. When I was 12 years old, I was amazed to see the stuff poured over everything and to see middle schoolers fighting to get the last bag of Crab Chips, the special chip which at the time was flavored with old bay. (now with some sort of generic seasoning)
Though they recruit ‘em young, the obsession with the 12 herbs and spices of old bay is present across the full lifespan of an average Marylander. My company cafateria has a big bin of it in the condiment rack that needs to be replaced about once a week. I even find myself using it with my daily pretzel at work. (some of you might know that I also love pretzels) A big hit at a favorite night spot 40 miles south of Baltimore in Silver Spring: the quarry house tavern is the tater tots with old bay. At the soft shell crab festival in Crisfield, Old Bay was plentiful. I even noticed it sitting prominently at a popular establishment in Cumberland.
My boss used it as ammunition to make fun of Virginians the other day as they eat their crabs without the necessary seasoning. (Not that anyone needs that much ammunition becasue Virginia’s poor road signage is sufficient to ridicule the state.)
I’ve even gone so far as to use it for a barbeque rub. One day I was thinking that it has all the key ingredients: heat, garlic, salt, paprika. That’s what every barbeque rub starts with. However, I can tell you that after more than 12 hours of smoking, much of the spice flavor mellows out: except for the celery salt. It was after that day that I noticed the first ingredient in Old Bay is in fact Celery Salt: perfect for crabs, not so much for pork butts.
The spices are no longer manufactured in a retail space downtown, the bottom of every bin says it is packed in Hunt Valley, MD, though the spices as they have historically been, are likely sourced from around the world.