POLITICS
09/12/2014 05:41 EDT | Updated 11/12/2014 05:59 EST

200 years later, military foes from War of 1812 stage fresh battle, with food

BALTIMORE - Old military foes who fought the War of 1812 were battling each other once again Friday.

Only this time it was their naval chefs, competing in a cookoff.

Military cooks from the U.S., Canada, Britain and elsewhere participated in a week-long festival to commemorate the bicentennial of the battle that created the U.S. national anthem.

Two hundred years ago, on Sept. 13, 1814, Francis Scott Key penned the Star-Spangled Banner in a moment of inspiration as he witnessed the successful defence of Baltimore.

This time there were no red rockets glaring, nor bombs bursting in air. But there was tian de crab and crawfish, with a corn salsa gremolata and crab-infused olive oil.

That was the entry of the Canadian team in the contest, led by Master Seaman Jean-Louis Lassonde. The atmosphere was a little less hostile in Baltimore's harbour, 200 years later.

"Americans weren't our allies then," the Navy chef noted. "Now they're our best allies. They're our brothers in arms."

Across the inner harbour, old tensions were being playfully suppressed.

Some Americans engaged in good-natured teasing of a Parks Canada employee about who really had won that war.

George Muggleton was dressed in period costume as a British officer from that era. His duty on this day was to defend a Government of Canada exhibition that offered a very even-handed perspective on the old hostilities.

The exhibit featured dual billboards: one with the war from the Canadian perspective, and one from the American one.

To Britain and its allies, they were acting in self-defence and ultimately succeeded in torching several U.S. cities, including the capital, Washington, D.C.

To the Americans, they were striking back against British aggression and won several important victories: a more united country, a national anthem, and the successful defence of Baltimore and New Orleans.

President Barack Obama arrived at Fort McHenry by the Baltimore harbour Friday to celebrate that heritage.

It was there that Key penned the poem, "The Defence of Baltimore," from a ship in the harbour as he watched the Americans defend the base throughout a 25-hour bombardment.

It was eventually paired with music, became a popular nationalist tune, and was officially proclaimed the national anthem by U.S. Congress in 1931.

As the crowd waited for Obama, a Canadian CF-18 buzzed overhead during an airshow.

While watching the modern spectacle, American Paul Czajkowski kept an eye on his 19th-century replica drum set.

He spent a year practising beats for the bicentennial festivities, as American soldiers once did. He explained how drums and wind instruments were used to communicate messages — like a military Morse code, which predated the bugle and eventually the radio.

He shared his own take on the War of 1812.

Czajkowski didn't deny that Americans started the hostilities. But he said the country drew some important victories in the end.

Until that war, he said, military units from each state felt an allegiance mainly to their own state. They were often reluctant to help others, he said. But they wound up rushing in from surrounding areas to defend Baltimore.

"It galvanized us as a union for the first time," he said. "It was one of the most dramatic examples of coming together under American unity."

Dressed in a red Maryland militia coat and roundhat, he pointed across the harbour at the spot where Key wrote his poem, as "Yankee Doodle Dandy" played and a gigantic stars-and-stripes was defiantly raised to replace the smaller one that had withstood British cannonballs through the night.

So who won Friday's naval cooking contest?

The Turks.

The descendants of the Ottomans carried the day Friday with grilled fish and spinach, paired with a kebab.