Chocolate, cheese and cherries - the perfect dessert
When time was young for mankind, cheesecakes were already an ancient dessert dish. Before man had invented writing, tales and recipes for a mystical cake was handed down from farther to son and from son to son.
The Greeks in 230 A.D. had history's first recorded recipe for a light smooth creamy cake made from cheese. When Roman Legions conquered Great Britain in 1,000 A. D. they brought with them a mixture of honey, spring wheat flour, and cheese. This was heated as one mass, cooled and served.
Cheesecakes were a fixture of the world, but not in my life in Hickman County Kentucky. At family gatherings, cheese was used for eating with crackers or as a topping for hamburgers. Even when I completed four years of college at Murray State University and two more advanced years at Southern Illinois University I never did come face to face with a dessert labeled cheesecake.
By majoring in geography and regional planning I maintained a small circle of friends and life experiences that focus on research and studies. Such was the lot of being a geographer with little normal skills.
Only as a young regional planner for Kentucky State Government, did I learn of cheesecakes.
It happened on a rainy night in Georgia, 1977, as Governor Julian Carroll opened up trade negations with the Premier of China. The actual first taste took place on the 30th floor of the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Atlanta, Georgia. Georgia Governor Busby had invited several southern governors to meet the visiting Chinese Premier. As part of the advance team from Kentucky I helped to set up the rooms for the party. We brought bourbon, lots of bourbon. Cases of Markers Mark were delivered that night to the party.
Somehow, the Georgians had made sure that a local cheesecake vendor had his cakes on the night’s menu.
At the exact moment that Governor Carroll was explaining how the very sophisticated gentleman of the world should enjoy a glass of Makers Mark, I reached down and selected a creamy looking pie shape dessert.
As the Premier look amazed by the impact of having very good bourbon touch his lips, I was just as shocked to sense such sheer pleasure as my first ever mouthful of New York style cheesecake.
From that moment on I was hooked on cheesecakes. During the next year of travels throughout America as staff director for federal affairs for Kentucky I searched high and low for the most perfect cheesecake. At each encounter with experts, their eyes would glaze over in taking about their desire to find that one cheesecake recipe that spelled perfection. Many food experts had tried to create it and many had failed.
I was luckier than most. My lust and desire for the mystical cheesecake took a rather marvelous twist or turn of fate in the summer of 1978. The place was a Boston, Mass.
The event was the National Governors Conference for that year. Boston was our host city. During my first few hours in town, I had sought the expert advice of five doorman and three taxi divers on the best cheesecake in Boston. And then, in a small out of the way cafe, next to Goodspeeds Bookstore it happened, I found true love.
Sitting outside, looking out over Boston Commons park area, anticipating several hours inside the nationally known bookstore, I slowly took a long sip of a fresh cup of great black coffee. As I was putting the coffee cup down, the waiter placed a very sensuous looking dessert in front of me.
There it was, yet another chance to find happiness.
Would I be crushed in food failure as had been the case so many times already across America or would this be the real thing? The light caressed its long shape of creamy texture, held in place by a base of graham crackers, butter, and vanilla. Reaching slowly toward the new plate on my table, I very carefully rotated it to explore all of its grand beauty. The top of the cake was as smooth as beautiful woman s skin. Several cherries adorned this area with long rivers of cherry pie filling flowing over the sides of the top layer.
Taking a deep breath, I quickly scooped up a spoonful of cake without the cherry addition. Closing my eyes to all other sights and distractions, my mind concentrated only on acquiring the flavor and taste of the cake.
Boom! There it was, full favor of a robust New York styled cheesecake. Taste buds, tongue, mouth and sense of smell all became one as I comprehended the complex structure of cream cheese, sugar, eggs, and vanilla exact interacting to make me forever, a prisoner to cheesecake lust.
Two hours later, another three cups of coffee, one more cheesecake, a good reading of the New York Times, and many minutes just watching the sunlight dance among the leaves of trees surrounding the Boston Commons, I left, never to return.
Throughout the years that followed, I will always have that perfect afternoon, in a perfect place, enjoying a very, very good (there never is a perfect cheesecake only dreams of catching one) cheesecake.
After Boston, my life turned toward other tracks such as national and state politics, newspaper publishing, and even military contracting for computers. Family and friends took more and more of life's attention.
However, two years ago, the old feelings came back. I knew that trouble was coming my way when in the deepest hour of dark morning, as your mind jumps to full alertness, before the dawn first light and you know in your heart that the answer to helping with the churches fund raising event was....wait for it....steady....here it comes....making a mega chocolate cheesecake.
Life, if nothing else, has taught me that the really good cheesecakes are all about pleasure. My Mississippi River Rich Dark Chocolate Cheesecake is all about pleasure and chocolate. My four inch high cheesecake has five different chocolate platforms or taste and sensory levels.
Maybe the myth of the most perfect cheesecake is just that, a myth. Or, could legend for the past 1,000 years really be about just the pursuit and chase for perfection? Long is curse and joy for serious cheesecake connoisseurs. Many end up creating their own happiness with their own cheesecake reality.
Yet, reality has a way of leading into strange and wonderful; side trips along the course of life. For me, the weekend of BBQ on the River was such a wonderful diversion from the normal when I discovered that a stand that proclaimed cheesecake on a stick, that I once again discovered a new twist to enjoying the taste of a very good cheesecake.
That experience is yet another chapter in my journey toward capturing the mythical perfect sensuous taste of cheesecake, a dessert that was old when man was young.