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.

Mom and Bonnie in the kitchen - PBH (2)

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.

Journeying Home Again

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I hadn’t journeyed home to Patagonia in awhile, but this trip was a celebration I would not miss – the three-year reunion of Paton supporters who had been instrumental in “saving” Paton’s Birder Haven. The weekend also marked Tucson Audubon’s Capital Campaign Kick-off to fund improvements to the house. While there, I had the great honor of sharing from my book, Journey Home: How a Simple Act of Kindness Led to the Creation of a Living Legacy” — the story about my parents, Wally & Marion Paton and the creation of their world-renowned birdwatching backyard.

Entering the yard, so familiar, yet different now, I was immediately struck by all the improvements completed by Tucson Audubon Society since my last visit two years ago. My first stop – the Paton Legacy Sign erected in the front yard. What a thrill to see my parents honored for creating this birding mecca that still attracts thousands of visitors each year from all parts of the globe. While reading the sign, a couple from British Columbia approached — their first visit to Paton’s. “Where do we pay?” was their first question to me. “There is no entrance fee,” I replied — a tradition my parents established decades ago and continues today. The “sugar fund,” originally an old coffee can hung on the fence,  now a spiffy donation box, remains strictly voluntary.

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Paton Legacy Sign, Tucson Audubon’s Paton Center for Hummingbirds, April 2017

After three glorious days during which Paton supporters were treated to some fabulous spring migration birding, tours of the property by various Tucson Audubon staff involved in improvement projects, talks by hummingbird expert, Sheri Williamson, of Southern Arizona Birding Observatory (SABO) and Jesus Garcia, Director of the Kino Heritage Fruit Tree Project at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, it was time to say goodbye once again.

As I wandered the property on that last day, I spent a few moments in the yard reflecting at some special spots. My Dad’s pecan tree still thrives in the back yard, bigger and more robust than ever, still producing a good amount of pecans each year. I sat a good while on my parents’ memorial bench and reflected on the beauty and peacefulness of this place — the land they had nurtured for decades, still loved and nurtured. The bench had been positioned near to the site of my Dad’s former orchard in the front yard. Plans to re-establish an orchard here are underway. Jonathan Horst, Restoration Ecologist, is heading up that project.

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Wally Paton’s pecan tree, still thriving

I stopped to remember my Mom’s rose garden in the front yard, ready to pop with bloom — her passion. I sat on a bench in the Richard Grand Memorial Meadow with Carol and Paul Lamberger, long-time Paton supporters. We sat for a good while at this peaceful spot overlooking the newly created pond — all possible because of the kindness and generosity of Marcia Grand and the hard work of Tucson Audubon staff and volunteers.

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Marion Paton’s Rose Garden in the background ready to bloom

Then a very special moment happened. As I was getting in the car to leave,  Carol Lamberger inquired if the rose bushes in the front yard were my mothers. “Yes,” I answered, “she loved roses. We would always gift one or several at Mother’s Day.” Carol smiled and then promised to take special care of them for me. And in that moment I was reminded of the special magic that surrounds Patons — it seems to bring out the very best in people — it always did and continues to do so. It is the underlying essence of the place and that spirit of kindness and generosity that my parents exemplified that will continue in perpetuity. In addition, of course, to remaining one of the top birding sites in the world.

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Sitting in the Richard Grand Memorial Meadow (former Paton horse paddock) with the Lambergers

Watch a short video of how Paton’s began: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5L_dheYoQBQ