My Grandmother’s Cheesecake

My grandmother died the day after Christmas at my mom’s house. She was the kind of grandmother that if you were given the chance to win the Big Prize, and you had to choose between Door number 1, Door number 2 or Door number 3, and you chose Door 3 and there she was you’d be screaming YES!!! YES!!! and you would be jumping up and down and you would be crying and laughing and your whole family would be running up to the stage to jump up and down with you and the balloons would be flying around with the confetti. It would be the Jackpot. Going to her house for the weekend was the Grand Prize on the same show. Friday night she took you out for pizza and then Saturday you went to J.M. Fields to pick out a toy, and then you came home to watch TV and eat chicken with mashed potatoes and gravy. There were always popsicles in the freezer and potato chips in the pantry and on the Sunday before we left, we would work the candy counter at my Uncle Nil’s in East Haven–a huge roll top antique filled with every penny candy you could imagine. When I think about my grandma, food is in the same breath. Vegetable soup with a meat broth and dumplings, chicken liver pate with sour cream spread on the top, quiche, plates and plates of handmade cookies, cakes, pies and crumbles, bread that she made that morning, ribbon candy, fresh fruit salad with Cool Whip and a High Boy with the bottom drawer jam packed with the recipes. When she would show up for visits at our house, she brought a hinged, flat topped basket with a cheesecake in it. It was the best cheesecake I have ever known.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Bring 3 eight ounce packages of full fat Philadelphia cream cheese to room temperature, along with 4 eggs. Beat the cream cheese in an electric mixer, and add 1 cup of granulated sugar. Add the eggs one at a time, along with 1 teaspoon of pure vanilla extract, a pinch of fresh lemon zest, and if you like another pinch of fresh orange zest. Pour this into a crust of 1 cup of crushed graham cracker crumbs that has been mushed around with 3 tablespoons of melted butter and 2 tablespoons of sugar. Bake for 45 minutes and check for doneness. It should be ever so slightly loose in the middle. Spread with a 15 ounce container of sour cream that has had a few tablespoons of sugar added and a drop or two of vanilla extract. Bake for 5 more minutes and remove from the oven. Cool in a warm place. Serve with all you love and best quality preserved cherries.

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