[Karen Jackson, Special to The Baltimore Sun]
A few times a week, master baker George Simon leaves his Cockeysville ovens and drives to Maple Lawn Farms in Pennsylvania for the peaches that are the attraction of his revered summertime sweet treat.
Simon, who is 95 and has the energy of the younger bakers he trains in his Cranbrook Road kitchen, learned to make the peach cake from several generations of the Simon family, who operated out of a classic bakery at Hanover and Barney streets in South Baltimore.
The Simons began baking in 1880 in Baltimore — and there is no sign of a cessation. George Simon started in 1947 near his birthplace at Pratt and Payson, then baked at Hartman’s at Park Heights and Cold Spring. He had his own shop at Loch Raven and Taylor Avenue and opened at the Cranbrook Shopping Center in 1977.
His peach cake attracts a loyal but quiet following at Simon’s Bakery. They are a battery of neighborhood people who savor the way this basic Baltimore dessert tastes. There are other peach cakes sold in Baltimore in August, and their devotees defend their favorites against the competition.
For the uninitiated, a peach cake is sold in rectangles (Simon calls them cake “slabs”) and is made of fresh peach halves on a raised dough. The rest is August magic. It’s hard to tell whether this is breakfast, lunch or dinner fare. Most people just eat them as they arrive home from the bakery.
“His bakery is a unique little spot,” said Bob Carr, a Cockeysville resident and fan of the Simon product line. “He is one of the last local scratch bakers. What he makes is simple and by that I do not mean to be derogatory. I mean simple in the sense of days gone by.”
Simon’s peach cake was voted No. 1 by a Baltimore Sun panel in 2011.
Simon is a second cousin to another Baltimore baking dynasty, the Otterbein family, who make the thin cookies sold at so many local grocery stores. Simon makes his own version of the thin, hand-cut sugar cookie.
An optimistic and happy personality, he never brags about the cakes, cookies and other desserts he begins making six days a week at 4 a.m. He seems more proud of his window displays, which incorporate a Baltimore Christmas garden with hundreds of Walt Disney figures and British-made lead soldiers. There are buttons for children to press, too. With little or no urging, he’ll run his toy trains.
His bakery seems tailor-made for the Cranbrook Shopping Center, a commercial enterprise off the busier York Road. The shopping center is a place where Baltimore traditions seem to migrate.
This summer the center is being refurbished. The Pappas family, whose Parkville seafood restaurant is known for its crab cakes, will move soon into the location of the former Patrick’s, a bar and restaurant that kept the memory alive of Johnny Unitas and his Golden Arm restaurant. There is also a Martin’s catering hall called Valley Mansion here too.
“We thought, wouldn’t it be great to be in that neighborhood?” said Justin Windle, the managing partner of the new Pappas Restaurant and its sports bar. He is a business partner and brother-in-law to Steve Pappas, son of founder Mark Pappas.
Windle, the father of four children, lives in the area and saw the need in Cockeysville for the kind of traditional Baltimore cooking that appeals to families who love seafood, but don’t want to prepare it at home. He envisions his restaurant as maintaining the Pappas family traditions and perhaps recalling the style of the old Perring Place, the Northeast Baltimore establishment once owned by attorney Peter Angelos.
“Like Mr. Simon, who once had a bakery on Taylor Avenue, we have a Pappas Restaurant on Taylor, too,” Windle said. “We are working on opening in early September. It’s a united team effort.”