Today we celebrate a dessert that has been around, in one form or another, for thousands of years. I’d call that a pretty gouda run! April 23 is National Cherry Cheesecake Day.
It’s also National Picnic Day, and while the weather is ideal for such an outing, the fact that it’s a workday made the idea of trying to plan a picnic lunch in the city tricky at best. Besides, a picnic doesn’t honor any particular food, so we chose to celebrate the cheesecake instead.
Cheesecake originated in ancient Greece, and – because it was considered a good source of energy – was served to athletes in the very first Olympic games, in 776 B.C. It won rave reviews there (but the East German judges gave it a 4.6). Early recipes were pretty crude: pound some cheese, mix it in a pan with honey and spring wheat flour, heat, cool, and dig in. When Rome conquered Greece they brought the recipe back home and modified it by adding crushed cheese and eggs, and cooking it under a hot brick. As the Roman empire expanded, cheesecake recipes spread throughout Europe, with regional variations popping up in each country. Centuries later, European immigrants introduced cheesecake to America. Our unique spin on the popular dessert was the addition of cream cheese, discovered by accident when a New York dairy farmer was attempting to recreate Neufchatel, a soft French cheese. Meanwhile, Italians make theirs with ricotta, Greeks use mizithra or feta, Germans use cottage cheese, and the Japanese incorporate egg whites and cornstarch into theirs, and sell it in vending machines with a whole bunch of other odd things. In America, it can be served plain (i.e. decadent New York-style cheesecake, made with heavy cream) or with toppings such as fruit, nuts, or chocolate.
My family has an excellent recipe for cherry cheesecake that has been passed down through the generations. It’s creamy and delicious, and my mom usually makes it once a year – on Christmas day. Alas, we are more than eight months away from seeing the fat guy in the red suit trying to squeeze his ass down the chimney, so we had to go the easy route instead. I had seen individual slices of cheesecake for sale in New Season’s Market, so Tara and I stopped by there for lunch today. Sadly, they didn’t have cherry cheesecake. But they did have lemon cheesecake, and they’re a grocery store, so they also sold jars of maraschino cherries. Thus, we were able to cobble together a pretty decent cherry cheesecake which we shared bites of. It was a lot easier than making a cheesecake from scratch or having to buy a whole one, and was – as cheesecakes usually are – delicious!