Oh boy are we Baltimoreans possessive of our Old Bay seasoning! As far back as I can remember, it was coveted by just about everyone I knew. After all most of my friends and family loved to steam and eat the bountiful blue crabs of the Chesapeake Bay region. Gosh we were so proud to have the spice manufactured right here and equally delighted to share our secret with outsiders. Many families shipped the cheerful yellow tins to the less fortunate who lived outside the area where Old Bay was nowhere to be found. I seem to remember an air of mystery about the ingredients. My best, childhood-friend Charlotte, who still loves food, and I studied the box and considered duplicating the spicy seasoning. Somehow we never attempted this in either of our mothers' kitchens.
The original recipe was invented by a German immigrant named Gustav Brunn. According to the Old Bay web site, the original name was "Delicious Brand Shrimp and Crab Seasoning." It was wisely renamed "Old Bay" which was the name of the steamship line that had a huge building located on Light Street -- approximately where the Harborplace pavilion now sits.
Of course in my personal collection of old spice tins, which are mainly the McCormick and Bee Brand products, I have an assortment of Old Bay and related tins. Here is an interesting observation assisted by memory. The 1950 container of " Old Bay Seafood Seasoning" features a crab, a shrimp and a lobster on the cardboard package. The lid is a gold colored tin. Baltimore Spice Company is given credit as the manufacturer. I remember that McCormick at the time had their brand of Seafood seasoning which was supposed to mirror the flavor of Old Bay. It was not popular around these parts for obvious reasons. The packaging was colorful and had a nice illustration of a red crab and some shrimp on the label. But to loyal Old Bay lovers it felt unreliable and uncool.
Not sure when Old Bay decided to change the label from "Seafood Seasoning" to "Seasoning for Seafood, Poultry, Salads and Meats" but it is there on the shelf with its red plastic lid. (see it for yourself on your own pantry shelf - I rarely paint objects that are still available) I have read that in 1990 the Baltimore Spice Company let go of their precious Old Bay and laid it in the responsible hands of our McCormick and Company now located in Hunt Valley, MD. Thank goodness we still make this precious commodity right here on the outskirts of Crabtown. I shudder to imagine the uproar if ever the manufacturing of"our" beloved spice was relocated.
And here is a sample of one of my other spice tin paintings: