Maryland Traditions Folklife Area
Mary Ada Marshall
Smith Island cake
photo credit: Edwin Remsberg Photographs
Mary Ada Marshall is a lifelong resident of Smith Island and a standardbearer for the island, the region, and one of its most famous products: Smith Island cake. Marshall remembers her mother and grandmother making the dessert; no social event on the island would be complete without it. Marshall has been making Smith Island cakes for decades and both sells cakes and demonstrates the process to the public. She has been a recipient of the Maryland Traditions Apprenticeship Award and has been involved in sharing this tradition with others at events throughout the state.
Smith Island cake is a multilayer dessert, composed of at least eight layers separated by any number of flavors of icing. The classic flavor is chocolate icing and white cake, but the cake’s flavor profile has expanded to include peanut butter and orange. The dessert takes a significant amount of time and attention to detail to successfully assemble. As the dessert has become more popular, the number of layers has increased as individuals compete with each other in the baking process.
Mary Ada Marshall has mastered this distinctive Chesapeake tradition, one of Maryland’s most significant lifeways. Her cakes have been sold throughout Maryland and across the world. Marshall was instrumental in the designation of Smith Island cake as the official state dessert of Maryland in 2008.