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Holiday traditions with the Muckenhirns

December 3, 2007

By Jen Bakken
Staff Writer

A drive through Delano during the month of December gives one many reasons to become full of holiday spirit.

With Christmas trees for sale and homes or stores festively decorated, it’s obvious what time of year it is.

Passing one particular home in Delano you will see a nativity scene like those found in many other front yards, however if you look just past the manger, you may catch a glimpse of a holiday tradition in progress.

A peak into Frank and Marlene Muckenhirn’s home will most likely find them in their kitchen. The kitchen, for them, is much more than just a place for cooking or eating. It’s a place where traditions take place and memories are made.

As a field editor for Taste of Home magazine, Marlene takes pride in the many recipes she has had published during the past 13 years.

“I really have enjoyed doing this,” said Marlene. “I’m not paid, so it’s just because I love it.”

The bi-monthly publication has featured Marlene’s recipes, and in 1998, her dilled corn and peas side dish was pictured on the cover of their annual cookbook. While she admits it feels wonderful to hear from people, all over the country, who have enjoyed her entrees, she says what she cherishes most is baking with her grandchildren.

Each year, this grandma and her granddaughter make a special holiday dessert to celebrate five December birthdays within the family.

As a tradition of their own, they have made everything from a torte, or a layered truffle, to a frozen dessert.

Last year they made peanut butter cup cheesecake, and this Christmas, checkerboard ice cream cake will be added to their list of delicious creations.

“I just talked to Alicia, my oldest granddaughter,” Marlene said, “and told her if she comes home from college next weekend, I have a Saturday planned for baking,”

The tradition doesn’t stop at one dessert; it continues with Marlene and her grandchildren making divinity, peanut brittle, and caramels.

Having 11 grandchildren, ranging in age from 2 years old to 18 years old, there is never a shortage of helpers in the Muckenhirn kitchen. Stirring and wrapping caramels is fun for all because sample testing is allowed, and even encouraged.

Grandpa gets in on the act too. A recipe for poppy seed kuchen handed down by his mother, Carola VonBank, is now a specialty of Frank’s.

“It’s kind of like coffee cake. It’s Polish, but the Germans picked it up,” explained Frank. “So it’s German, too, and they make it a little different.”

As a child of only 8 years old, he began helping his mother make poppy seed kuchen and back then, it was more difficult to make. He remembers grinding the poppy seed, in a coffee grinder, for long periods of time.

Today, using a grinder, it takes only a few minutes to grind what used to take him three hours. Still, this treat is quite a commitment, involving soaking the seeds over- night, waiting for the dough to rise, and taking almost a full day to produce a batch of three.

This is why Frank now makes just over a dozen during the holidays, as opposed to nearly 25 in years past. Although Frank doesn’t share his recipe with everyone, he will, on occasion, take orders from family members and area residents.

Their joy in cooking doesn’t end when the holidays are over – it’s year-round. For nearly 38 years, this family has enjoyed monthly pizza parties. Perfecting the art of making homemade pizza is a family affair, and their sauce has been featured in the taste section of the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

Growing up in Delano, Frank returned to the area with his wife and family in 1981, after owning a small restaurant in Battle Creek, Iowa. While raising four boys, Keith, Brian, Todd, and Brent, the Muckenhirns have been involved in many community activities.

From helping with the St. Peter’s Church annual harvest festival in the past, to the many sports their children and now, grandchildren participate in, this couple has always been busy.

Frank retired from teaching business management at St. Paul Technical College and doing independent work for the City of St. Paul, but still works as the Delano Knights of Columbus gambling manager.

With a love for photography, he proudly displays photographs he has taken of his grandchildren throughout their home.

Marlene is a retired insurance agent, a member of the Red Hat Society, and works for Dr. Gary McGowan, at his chiropractic clinic, a few mornings per week.

“I worked for Gary when we first moved to Delano,” she said. “Now, I’m working for him again about 25 years later, not because I have to, but because I want to.”

No matter how busy they have been, or continue to be, they always find time to enjoy their hobbies. From photography and monthly pizza parties to holiday baking, hobbies turn into traditions with the Muckenhirns, and traditions are how memories are made.