KITTERY POINT — As Mollie Martin plated one of her family’s favorite dishes, spooning cheese sauce over toasted white bread and bacon, her grandmother, Phyllis Sanders, said, “Wouldn’t Queenie be tickled to know that you’re doing this?”

Queenie Sanders, who died more than 60 years ago, introduced the dish, called Cream Cheese on Toast, to the Sanders family decades ago, and its roots in the family tree may stretch back even farther. No one really knows.

But they are determined to keep the dish – a family favorite on Sunday mornings and on Christmas Day – alive.

“I love the fact that my kids will make this for their kids and their grandchildren,” Martin said. “And I like that it’s unique to our family.”

Martin keeps her diet gluten-free and dairy-free – except when she indulges in her great-grandmother’s Cream Cheese on Toast.

Queenie Sanders was born and raised in Fredericton, New Brunswick. Martin, who is researching her family history, has discovered that at age 19, Queenie lived in the building on Forest Avenue in Portland where Bibo’s Madd Apple Café is now located. She came to Portland, apparently, to work as a bookkeeper and had a civil service job at a local shipyard.

At some point she moved to the Kittery area, where she stayed busy in the community, working with the local PTA and garden club. She also wrote for the Portsmouth Herald.

Queenie Sanders had three sons – Earl, Steve and Paul – and all three loved her Cream Cheese on Toast. They ate it every Sunday morning and on Christmas, when she served it with fresh, homemade grape juice.

Phyllis Sanders met Earl Sanders in high school. They became a couple five years later after their high school reunion. Phyllis Sanders met her husband’s mother only once; Queenie died a few years before Phyllis and Earl married in 1953.

When Earl Sanders first told his new wife about Cream Cheese on Toast, she thought it was weird – especially because the cheese used in the dish is American cheese, not cream cheese – but she made it anyway and was won over.

“Anything is good with bacon, right?” she said. “But I like cheese anyway. The cheese sauce is really good. And we go heavy on the cheese.”

“And it has to be Land O’ Lakes white American cheese,” Martin added.

The family has tried making Cream Cheese on Toast with other kinds of cheese, and it’s just not the same, they say. Even other brands of American cheese don’t taste as good – they’re “not quite as tangy,” Martin said, and they have an odd texture.

“I’ve tried fancier cheeses, thinking I’m going to ‘up’ the recipe,” Martin said. “The kids will not go for it.”

The extended Sanders family repast of toast topped with bacon and cheese sauce. Its parsley garnish is in honor of one of Mollie Martin's uncles. "I feel like it's a little healthier," she said and laughed.

The extended Sanders family’s repast of toast topped with bacon and cheese sauce. Its parsley garnish is in honor of one of Mollie Martin’s uncles. “I feel like it’s a little healthier,” she said and laughed. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

On Christmas morning, Martin’s kids “supervise” the amount of cheese Sanders puts into the sauce.

“They want to make sure there’s a lot of cheese,” Sanders said. “So I get them to taste it to see that it’s right.”

For Christmas, the grown-ups in the house pair their Cream Cheese on Toast with mimosas rather than the grape juice Queenie Sanders served. Fruit salad on the side takes away a little of the guilt.

Not long after Martin dished up a serving, her 18-year-old son, Noah Laster, arrived home, thrilled to see what was waiting for him.

“I love this stuff,” he said as he dug in. “It’s like Christmas morning.”

Phyllis Sanders with her great-grandson Noah Laster, who was happy to come home to Cream Cheese on Toast – which actually doesn't contain any cream cheese. "I love this stuff," Laster says. "It's like Christmas morning."

Phyllis Sanders with her great-grandson Noah Laster, who was happy to come home to Cream Cheese on Toast – which actually doesn’t contain any cream cheese. “I love this stuff,” Laster says. “It’s like Christmas morning.” Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Laster learned how to make Cream Cheese on Toast when he was around 10 or 12. He’s not known for cooking at home, but he would make the dish for his friends when he went out for a sleepover.

Asked why he likes it so much, he replied, with the are-you-kidding-me? tone teenagers have, “It’s a ton of bacon and a ton of cheese.”

Laster said he tried making it with sharp cheddar once, and “that was a no. It’s not supposed to have a bite.”

At least not that kind of bite. Some people do like to sprinkle pepper on it. (Martin says it doesn’t need salt since the cheese is so salty.)

Martin noted that her Uncle Steve always insisted on adding parsley, so she sprinkled some on in his honor; it adds a little color to the otherwise mostly white dish.

“I feel like it’s a little healthier,” she said, laughing. “The mimosa’s missing, though. Usually that’s a Christmas tradition, too.”