The History of Old Bay
Old Bay is THE staple seafood spice blend in the Mid-Atlantic. Any seafood (crabs, shrimp, oysters or fish) just wouldn’t be the same without this standout seasoning!
Old Bay is a combination of 18 different spices, mostly consisting of savory flavors like celery seed, salt, red pepper, paprika, garlic and onion. The total blend and subsequent recipe is kept super secret, lock and key. Many a chef have tried to duplicate Old Bay, but nothing beats the original. A recipe that is the same today as it was 75+ years ago, when it all began.
A WWII Refugee in Baltimore
Old Bay seasoning’s origin story begins when Gustav Brunn was born in Germany in 1893. As a young man he worked in the European spice trade, primarily selling and making seasoning blends to sausage makers.
In the late 1930’s, during the raise and control of the Nazi party in Germany, Gustav was one of the many German born Jews captured and sent to the Buchenwald Concentration Camp. Miraculously, he was released after two weeks and promptly fled Europe for the US. Rumored that Gustav only had the clothes on his back and a spice grinder tucked under his arm, he arrived in Baltimore.
Brunn was able to secure some funding, thanks to the growing and supportive population of German immigrants in Baltimore, and opened his first shop The Baltimore Spice Company.
The Seafood Spice of Life
The Baltimore Spice Company was open for business! Gustav may not have known it at the time but he was extremely serendipitously located. His shop was right in the heart of the Market Place in Downtown Baltimore~a hub of fish mongers, crabbers and seafood merchants.
Seeing all this inspiring seafood prompted Brunn to develop a blend specifically for the goods on display. He called it ‘Delicious Brand Shrimp and Crab Seasoning’.
As tasty as his original recipe might have been, Gustav struggled to convince the local merchants to use his product. Many of them had their own seasoning secrets and were reluctant to make the switch. He was able to persuade just one crabber to try his spice and the resulting popularity was profound. Customers were queuing around the block for these new spiced crabs! Eventually, the whole market was using Gustav’s spice blend.
The name Old Bay didn’t come until much later. It was Brunn’s son that recommended the change. We can see why, Delicious Brand Shrimp and Crab Seasoning is a mouthful! The new name came from a passenger ship that sailed from Baltimore to Norfolk VA called, The Old Bay Line. The new name was a hit and helped launch the brand into the seasoning stratosphere!
In the 1990’s Old Bay was bought by McCormick & Company. Little changed with the acquisition~same recipe, same tin, same awesomeness!
Old Bay + Cameron’s Seafood = ❤️
Like any seafood merchant worth their salt, Cameron’s knows that great seafood deserves great seasoning. And following in the traditions of many mongers before, Old Bay is the staple spice, the recommended go-to for our crabs and shrimp. Even our homemade crab cakes pay homage to the great spice master Gustav!
About the author
Patterson Watkins is a professional chef with over 17 years of experience. With a robust career in restaurants, contract dining and catering (including 4 Summer Olympic posts preparing food for the athletes!) Patterson joined the Cameron’s Seafood team at the end of 2018 to concoct some delicious recipes with our premium seafood items as the centerpiece.