Written By: Meryl Hellring
As the last evidence of autumn falls away and gets raked into crunchy piles, thoughts turn to the holidays and all their inherent treats and traditions. And while many homeowners begin to ponder this year’s pageantry, likewise restaurant- owner Stewart Dearie is laying plans for another serving of seasonal splendor at Skykesville’s award-winning Baldwin’s Station.
“This property has real magic to it,” Dearie says of the structure, originally built in 1833. “Around holiday time, it just screams out, ÔLet’s get snowed in!’”
An area staple since 1997, the former Baltimore & Ohio Main Line railroad station, designed by the prolific 19th Century architect, E. Francis Baldwin, takes full advantage of its picturesque setting on the banks of the Patapsco and is transformed into a truly magical holiday destination.
The rustic brick-walled rooms are festooned with garlands and lights as the air fills with the aroma of Executive Chef Bryan Sullivan’s holiday cooking. The 28-year-old Sullivan has been “shaking it up” at Baldwin’s Station for just over a year, and in that time has spearheaded six or seven menu overhauls. He recently recalled some of his own holiday memories, and how they have made their way onto the menu at Baldwin’s Station:
“I was born in Lafayette, Indiana, but I grew up in Edmond, Oklahoma. I remember always liking to cook and cooking a lot as a kid, especially
with my grandma. As a matter of fact, when I was at school at Johnson and Wales University, a picture surfaced of me standing in my grandma’s kitchen wearing a chef’s hat. I never even knew that picture existed, so it was pretty funny that somebody found it when they did.
One of my most vivid holiday memories is the cookie contest every Christmas between all my aunts. At my grandma’s house there was this breezeway that connected the garage to the house, and all my aunts and my mother and grandmother would put their cookies in Tupperware and line up all the containers in the breezeway. I just remember walking through there and wanting to eat all of those cookies!
So the cookie that I always thought was the best – my mother’s lemon bars – is actually on the menu now at the restaurant as our Lemon Tart. It took me a long time to get that recipe right. When I first tried making it, it would turn out like scrambled eggs on top of a crust. It was pretty bad. Finally, last year I got it right. I figured out the science of it and that the secret was to bake it slow and long because it’s really a custard. Really, this recipe has such simple ingredients – and that’s the secret to great cooking, I think. Simple, fresh ingredients made really well.
I like that philosophy to be reflected in the menu at Baldwin’s, so for the holidays another thing I like to do is incorporate seasonal foods and recipes. It just makes sense that ingredients like dried fruits and game meats, which are available at this time of year, should be used in the cooking. So one of the dishes on our menu this holiday season will be grilled venison medallions with fall figs and dried fruit compote. This is a wonderful recipe that uses fruits that taste great together and are available right now, like apricots, figs, apples, pears and raisins. That will be served with a sweet potato puree and glazed winter vegetables. These are the types of recipes that anybody could cook at home. The thing about trying something new is that you just have to watch them as you go because everybody’s oven is different. And I guarantee that the dish will get better every time you make it.
I get inspiration for new recipes by going to outdoor markets and seeing what’s in season and what’s available, by sometimes watching the Food Network, and by scanning through my cookbooks. I have about 500 or 600 of them. So I gather all this information, then I sit in my dining room and the ideas flow. I have a huge file of recipes and notes – I call it “the brain” – and every once in a while something will just hit me.
I love to think of new recipes and I love the holidays. When you think about it, food has to be at least 70 percent of the holiday experience. No matter who you are, everybody loves to eat. Great holiday food can really represent being at home and being at peace. It’s really a great time of year.”