For U-Md., a Project That's No Piece of Cake

By Susan Kinzie
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 23, 2006

It started as a joke but turned into a giant math and science problem: How do you make a birthday cake big enough for 52,000 people?

To celebrate the 150th anniversary of the University of Maryland at an annual community party on campus, chefs are baking what they think will be the world's largest strawberry shortcake, an 18-by-24-foot, 5,040-pound monster.

At least, they hope they are.

It has to be ready by 10 a.m. April 29, when U-Md. President C. Daniel Mote Jr. will arrive with other dignitaries, including the furry turtle mascot, to slice the shortcake and serve the crowd.

Mote started Maryland Day after he arrived as president in 1998 and asked when the school's open house was. Never, he was told.

Not just never on the calendar that year but never in the history of the school.

He pushed to start one, despite the considerable skepticism of his staff. Now as many as 70,000 neighbors, alumni, prospective students and parents are expected on campus that day to learn about robots, get basketball players' autographs, freeze ice cream with liquid nitrogen, feel bugs scurrying at an entomology exhibit, find decorated turtle sculptures, eat ice cream made by hand with milk from the school's dairy, and watch a football scrimmage.

They can look at old photographs and artifacts from the school's history, covering the first class of 34 students -- they paid a tuition of $250 each -- the original diamondback terrapin (stuffed and mounted) and the beanies freshmen had to wear, said university archivist Anne Turkos.

Mote says Maryland Day is eye-opening in many ways: "People really can expand their view of what's possible for them."

Like making a huge strawberry shortcake, for starters.

At first it seemed impossible, said Joe Mullineaux, the associate director of dining services. But . . . he liked the idea. And they had a 19th-century recipe for shortcake.

And so, since January, a team of cooks has been planning the shortcake, with drawings, scale models, mathematical calculations, temperature projections and consultations with maintenance and events staffers.

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