Petron ladies, young and old, eagerly anticipate baking tradition

The Petron ladies from Rice gather every year on a Saturday in December and do their Christmas baking. They have never missed a year since the kids were growing up, and now eight granddaughters join in the fun. Pictured are front row (from left): Hannah Mansell, Kennedy Mansell and Ashley Andresen. Middle row: Anne Mansell, Becky Skaj, Kristen Petron, Emily Wolter and Katie Andresen. Back row: Susie Andresen, Joanne Skaj (leaning behind), Megan Petron, Nancy Kostreba, Pam Petron, Judy Wolter and hostess Dorrain Petron.

Christmas baking day never missed in four decades

By Jennie ZeitlerStaff WriterThe Petron family baking day began in the 1970s when all the kids in the family helped out with the goodies and fun at home in Rice.“At that time, the boys baked too,” said mom and grandma Dorrain Petron. “Then they got outnumbered. My husband, Gale, usually tries to leave when we bake.”

With five sisters and two brothers, the odds were definitely in favor of the girls.

“After the girls got married, they came home to bake and we’ve never missed a year,” Petron said.

No one lives further than Paynesville, so it’s not a long trip for anyone to make.

Every person has a job to do. The little ones unwrap caramels in the dining room, and stir pots in the kitchen.

Using the dining room table, the kitchen counters and table and the adjacent breezeway stocked with tables, refrigerator and freezer, there is plenty of room to work, but not much room to move around with so many bodies.

“We had to get it down to a system because of the small space,” said Petron. “With so many people in such a small area we were sometimes tripping over each other.”

“I always make the peanut brittle, and Pam always makes her cornflake candy,” Petron said, “otherwise everybody does whatever needs to be done.”

“One of my favorite things is teaming up with my niece, Becky, to make incredibly complicated Snickers bars,” said daughter, Anne Mansell. “I can’t remember a Christmas when we didn’t have Mounds balls.”

Petron has never counted the number of items made. “It’s a lot,” she said. The baking is enough for all eight families for the season. Some of the gals take their goodies to work.

Everyone brings supplies such as cookie sheets and cake pans. They all bring ingredients such as chocolate chips, coconut and walnuts.

“No one is assigned to bring anything — we just know,” she said. “Things go pretty good.”

Every couple of years, someone brings a new recipe to try. It’s usually something that the group adds to the list and continues to make.

“The things we bake are 95 percent chocolate,” Petron said. “They are mostly bars and candy; we don’t do cookies.”

About five years ago, she saw an apron pattern she liked and made up aprons for her daughters, daughters-in-law and granddaughters.

“I did it mostly to use up my accumulated fabric,” said Petron. “They like the aprons. When the granddaughters outgrow one, it is passed on to the next and I make a new one.”

For the littlest aprons, Petron used a bib pattern and extended it, adding ties to the back.

“The tiny aprons are so cute,” Mansell said.

There is plenty of fun for everyone on baking day. “One year one of my daughters dropped a pan of bars on the floor,” said Petron. “They were pretty messed up and had to be tossed. We just laughed and laughed over that.”

“My sister was so frazzled when she dropped the bars, but another sister grabbed a fork and started to eat some of the bars that weren’t touching the floor before they had to be thrown away,” said Mansell.

The baking starts about 10 a.m. The ladies take a beverage break about 3 p.m., and finish cleanup by 7 p.m. or so.

There are years when the event is set for a Sunday, and people are distracted while trying to watch a Vikings game at the same time.

An obvious understatement, Petron said, “I’m tired at the end of the day. But my favorite part of this tradition is watching the littlest ones — the mess they make and the fun they have.”

“No one leaves until the last pan is washed and dried and every place is wiped up,” said Petron.

“I love the chaos, all the chocolate and the laughter. My kids look forward to it every year,” Mansell said. “I love the sitting around the table with my sisters and nieces and my kids, all of us putting everything together.”