Remembrance of Christmas Past – Baking with Mom

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Matthew Moon checks out an antique Ford pick up

My grandson Matthew wants me to put an antique pickup truck on my Christmas list this year − “preferably red,”  I say. He knows that for a long time I have coveted one these beauties.

I am not sure what I would do with it exactly, but for years I dreamed (or perhaps fantasized) about starting a business baking homemade pies and delivering them door to door in a truck like this one. What the intrigue is about this I don’t know, but every time I see a truck like this, I re-visit that vision.

I certainly don’t envision myself rolling endless rounds of pastry, cutting up apples, baking pumpkin and squash, or sorting through berries. I only envision the truck, piled high with boxes of various sweet, delicious pies, ready for me to jump into and begin my rounds. Perhaps one might see a flaw in my business plan and they would be right. But I will continue to bake pies and hold onto my fantasy of the antique red truck.

I do make a pretty good pie − apple is my specialty. I’ve been told by many that it is the best they have ever tasted. I once went to a pie tasting at our local Michelle Pies − a small business specializing in homemade pies. I tasted their apple − I think mine is better.

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My specialty − Apple Crumb pie

I learned to bake from my mother. People used to say that Marion Paton is always feeding someone and they were right. The kitchen is the place where my mother and I connected best − maybe because that is where you would find her most often. Growing up on a farm with an ample supply of milk, cream and eggs, we ate dessert every night.

“Saturday mornings were designated for baking dessert to last the week − pies, cookies and milk-based desserts: custards, grape nut and Indian puddings, cream puffs filled with custard and a holiday favorite called Lemon Snow Pudding. Our favorite cookies were New England standards: snickerdoodles, chocolate chip, and peanut butter. Snickerdoodles are basically a butter cookie rolled in a mixture of cinnamon and sugar before baking; creating the characteristic cracked top when baked. The origin of snickerdoodles remains a mystery. Some claim that it has German origins; others say it has Dutch origins. I like to believe the theory that they originated in New England and are just nonsense words with no particular meaning, following a local tradition of naming cookies whimsical names like “Cry Babies,” “Jumblies,” and “Plunkets.” Excerpt from Journey Home – How a Simple Act of Kindness Led to the Creation of a Living Legacy by Bonnie Paton Moon

The kitchen was my mother’s and mine alone every Saturday morning − for hours. Sometimes, perhaps when we were getting tired of filling the counter with pies, cakes and cookies, we would  get giddy. I remember one time in particular that the mixer went a little haywire throwing flour and chunks of butter all over the counter − we couldn’t stop laughing. It was really these moments of occasional, shared laughter that I loved most about this time together.

Every year that I have been married (almost 49 years now) I have made my mother’s Lemon Snow Pudding for Christmas. It was a tradition I started to honor my Mom, who used to make it every Christmas, and the special times we shared in the kitchen. It’s a simple recipe of lemon juice, sugar, beaten eggs whites in a gelatin base covered in thick, creamy custard sauce − delicious after a big holiday meal. The fact that the base is white and fluffy, reminiscent of snow, makes it the perfect Christmas treat.

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Mom and me in the kitchen at Paton’s Birder Haven

This year I have decided to make my Dad’s favorite bar cookies – Date Nut Squares. I will send them to the Tucson Audubon’s Paton Center for Hummingbirds in honor of the staff and volunteers who continue to keep Wally & Marion Paton’s legacy alive and thriving. They have recently built a small nook in the kitchen, right next to the old kitchen table, where we would sit for hours watching the birds in their now famous backyard. The nook is for the volunteers to help themselves to coffee and perhaps a light refreshment while they carry out the many chores of running a world-renowned birding sanctuary.

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Marion Paton’s Handwritten Recipe for Date Nut Squares −Wally Paton’s favorite

 

“Mom later went on to a career in the food industry, first working at Fay School in the cafeteria, then the local regional high school cafeteria; then as manager of the school lunch program in Patagonia, Arizona, until her retirement in 1990. Someone once remarked ‘Marion is always feeding someone − family, friends, strangers, animals − domestic and wild’” Excerpt from Journey Home – How a Simple Act of Kindness led to the Creation of a Living Legacy.

Remembrance of Christmas Past – 1949-66

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Red & Bonnie – Christmas – 1949

 

This is one of my earliest photos of Christmas in the Paton house. My brother, Red, is 4 and I am 2.  Sonny would be newborn and  it would be another fourteen years before my sister Jackie comes along.

What I like most about this picture is the vintage toys. My brother’s train set, the “Happy Time” garage, and the Poky the Clown tin dart board are indicative of toys of this era.  The dart board came with magnetic darts. Points were earned depending on where the dart landed, 1000 points for hitting Poky’s nose was the top prize.  Although I have a memory of playing darts, I don’t really remember Poky the Clown. The 1st clown I remember is Bozo, a television show which first aired in 1949. I didn’t watch Bozo that much. The Howdy Doody Show was more to my liking perhaps because Howdy Doody – the red-headed, freckle-faced marionette resembled my two red-headed brothers. I recently learned that Howdy Doody had 48 freckles, one for each of the 48 states at that time.

Santa brought me a lot of doll stuff that year. I am not sure if this is a store bought doll I am playing with or one made by my Nana Paton. She was a skilled seamstress and made many handmade dolls over the years.  As I got older I didn’t play with dolls much. I turned into a tom boy pretty quickly being the middle child between two active boys. Cowboys and Indians, cops and robbers, neighborhood baseball, sledding, ice skating and kick the can were our primary pleasures in those days.

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Bonnie & Red – Christmas – Southborough, MA – 1952

Our Christmas tree of 1949 was not one of the more spectacular ones. Over the years my Dad took great pride in cutting the biggest and fullest tree and dragging it home for us to behold. We would then spend hours decorating it.  My Dad favored tinsel which meant we each had to take turns putting on the endless strands, at Dad’s insistence ─ one piece at a time. Years later, when it came time to decorate my own tree, tinsel never graced it.  I guess I had spent too many hours on tinsel placement over the years to continue his tradition.

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Sonny, Bonnie & Red – Christmas – Southborough – 1954

 

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Wally & Marion Paton – Christmas – 1954

 

I was sixteen when my sister Jackie was born. Her arrival added a renewed excitement at Christmas for our family. I couldn’t wait to celebrate Christmas with her when I came home from my first semester at college. I was so proud to bring home a shirt from my school and saddle shoes just like mine.

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Jackie and Bonnie – Christmas – 1965

We celebrated 17 Christmases at the Paton Farm in Southborough. The Christmas of 1966 would be our last one there. By this time both Red and I were away at college. Sonny would be graduating from Algonquin High the following year and off to college soon after. My parents were joyfully planning their move to a new house they were building in Londonderry, New Hampshire.

I remember Christmas as a happy time in our house. Even when my parents were struggling dairy farmers we didn’t lack for anything at Christmas ─ my parents made sure of that. In 1953, when I was just 6 years old,  my Grandma Jessie died suddenly on Christmas morning. But even with that memory of losing her Mom, my mother never expressed sadness over the holidays. As my brother Sonny once said, “She didn’t have that negative side; she always kept a positive attitude and kept going.”

Over the years I have preserved a few of our family traditions, mostly cooking ones. In memory of my Mom I continue to make her Lemon Snow Pudding each Christmas,  and her heavenly Chocolate-walnut Fudge. If turkey is on the menu I have to make her bread stuffing. This recipe was the first one I knew by heart because I was always put in charge of toasting the bread. Her secret ingredient that made the stuffing super moist was adding a can of Campbell’s condensed Cream of Mushroom soup.

The first 100 pages of my mom’s old recipe book are missing. Having come loose from years of turning, the binding eventually gave way. But many of the recipes she used most remain though stained from loving use, like the Saturday night special Boston Baked Beans or Lemon Snow Pudding. Mom later went on to a career in the food industry, first working at Fay School in the cafeteria, then the local regional high school cafeteria; then as manager of the school lunch program in Patagonia, Arizona, until her retirement in 1990. Someone once remarked ‘Marion is always feeding someone – family, friends, strangers, animals – domestic and wild.’” – Journey Home – How a Simple Act of Kindness Led to the Creation of a Living Legacy

This year, I thought about starting a new tradition for me ─ I would add tinsel to my tree. It hasn’t happened, at least not yet, and time is running short for this year. But next year I am determined to buy a package or two of tinsel. I will take each strand, one by one, and place them on my tree in remembrance of my Dad, who made each tree extra special throughout the years.

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Wally & Marion Paton – Christmas – Southborough – 1966