Recently, a Facebook friend of mine posted a marvelous photo of a slice of cheesecake that literally made me drool. Me, who is known not to be into sweet things really! So, I asked her for the recipe. Only to be utterly surprised. But I’ll return to this later.
You wouldn’t believe how old the idea of cheesecake is – it reaches back into the 5th century B.C., when a Greek physician wrote about the art of making cheesecake. Cato the Older even described three different types of the food, one of which with the name of “placenta” allegedly comes closest to our modern-day variety. An English cookbook from 1390 presents a recipe for cheesecake which made some people believe that cheesecake was an English invention. Well, you and I know better now (Thank you, Wikipedia!). Our modern version of cheesecake – remove the yeast from the dough, add the eggs – arrived in Europe only in the 18th century. American cream cheese was invented only in 1872. Enter: the real American cheesecake with cream cheese and an unbaked basis.
Well, of course, I grew up with a German cheesecake variant, made from quark (a fresh acid-set cheese) and baked. My mother later abolished the dough part and put citrus juices and almonds into the quark custard she baked. I liked it a bit better than the other recipe with the dough, but I still never was a fan of it.
It must have been in the very early 1980s that my grandmother returned from a visit to family in Maine and dished us our first unbaked American cheesecake. I immediately fell in love with the flavors and the texture. YUMMEE! Unfortunately, the rest of my family never liked it, and so the recipe was lost either in the piles of loose recipes my mother collected or simply tossed. Either way, I never forgot my first encounter with the rich flavors of American cheesecake.
Thirty years after that first taste, I immigrated to the US, minus a shelf-yard of cookbooks, among them my first one that was given me by my grandmother. I became part of the Steilacoom Historical Museum Association’s Education Committee (no, I’m not wearing that hat anymore …). And I already rued I had given away my grandmother’s cookbook. What does one have to do with the other?
About a year into my museum activities, one of the committee members, Buzz Brake, who had become a wonderful friend, offered me a German cookbook. “You can have a look at it and then decide if you want it.” Guess my amazement, when it turned out that Buzz’ cookbook was exactly the same edition my grandmother had given me. And on opening it up – out came a recipe card … for the same kind of American cheesecake my grandmother had made way back when!
Don’t ask me where the card has gone, these days. Remember, I’m not much one for making sweet food. I guess it’s in MY collection of loose recipes now. Not really loose, but glued into a book. I’d have to search. Or did I maybe lose it after all?
In comes my Facebook friend Jaynie Jones, who posted this finger-licking good photo of her latest cheesecake creation. I don’t know how many recipe requests she received for it. Turns out the recipe comes from her mother-in-law, who used to make this cake for the lunch room of Woolworth’s for over 20 years. But when I read the ingredients of the recipe, I almost choked and teared up a little. You may have guessed it already. It was the same American cheesecake that my grandmother had made way back when.
What I draw from this story? Well, it may sound a bit cheesy for some of you, but I feel that some things are not meant to be ditched or lost. If you do, they keep returning to you nilly-willy. If they do, you better call them keepsakes.