My dad used to say, “[…] if the devil decides to take a dump, he makes sure it is all in a single pile”. Now my dad used many such slightly odd and serenely inarticulate, yet highly unique and original epigrams, usually when he tried to teach us one of life’s many lessons.
In this case, I suppose he was trying to tell me that once something goes wrong in your life, many other misfortunes are likely to follow. This will go one for as long as it takes the devil to finish his dirty business and that there is not much you can do but to stand tall and wait until the proverbial storm blows over. It is not easy and it is surely unpleasant.
Of late, glorious Greece seems to have been the Devil’s target. It is just one mishap after the other and the poor people of Greece must be thinking what did we do? How did it all go bad so quickly?
Which was exactly what I was thinking just the other day as I witnessed yet a few more news reports on the latest troubles in Greece from the comfort of my couch with a hefty slice of cheesecake in my hand. Which means I was enjoying extraordinary comforts compared to the Greek people of late.
A Greek friend once joked that it was the Greek who invented sex, but that it was the Italians who introduced women to it. But he was not joking when he said that in his view the whole world owed the Greek people big-time, for it was they, the Greek, who gave the world cheesecake. It was only under great duress that he finally admitted that it was indeed not them, but the Romans who introduced the world to it.
The first cheesecakes may have been made on the Greek island of Samos some 2,000 years BC. Or even earlier if you want to consider how long milk and milk products have been around. There is evidence that the first Olympians (776 BC) ate cheesecake and that cheesecakes were popular as wedding cakes around the same time. Early recipes listed flour, wheat, cheese and honey as ingredients.
Athenaeus’s recipe from 230 A.D. called for the cheese to be pounded into a smooth paste, and then mixed with honey and wheat flour, baked and finally cooled before serving.
The Romans conquered Greece, stole their cheesecake recipes, added eggs to the base mixture and introduced Europeans of all sorts to it. From there, it was a free-for-all basically, as the new nations added new, local ingredients and flavours to create their own version of the cheesecake.
Perhaps the single most important innovation in the modern, American version of the cheesecake was the accidental discovery of cream cheese in 1872 by William Lawrence of New York. Mr. Lawrence was looking at ways to make Neufchâtel cheese, a soft, mould-ripened cheese originally from Normandy, France, when something went “wrong” and he ended up with something a lot smoother and creamier that looked and tasted nothing like Neufchâtel.
The world is covered in cheesecake recipes, and for the ordinary eater it is often hard to tell the various types apart. So here is a little help with some of the most popular.
- British and Irish cheesecakes use crushed biscuits as a base and often have fruit compotes (fruit cooked in a sugar syrup) as toppings. These cakes are not baked but refrigerated.
- The most popular variety of German cheesecake in this country is possibly the Quarkkuchen using Quark cheese made from sour milk. Look out for real, traditional Bavarian, baked cheesecake.
- The French version still uses Neufchâtel cheese and gelatin is used to set the cake.
- For the Italian version, use ricotta or mascarpone cheese, sugar and vanilla.
- In Belgium quark cheese is also used but the cake is not baked. Chocolate is a common addition.
- In Brazil condensed milk is added to the cream cheese and jams are a popular topping.
From this short cheesecake survey it is clear that there are thousands of possible permutations for one to try. Distinctions are based on local variances in types of cheese, fruits and toppings used.
The version of cheesecake I like best is New York cheesecake. Its taste is distinct because sour cream is added to the cream cheese. Also, I have added the rind of a lime to the mix to add some freshness. There is no excuse for blandness even when making cheesecake.
To make it extra special I added one sliced and marinated strawberry, just for Sophie. She would have loved it as much as I loved her gentleness. And as our earthly ways are about to part one last time, I am reminded of what Thomas Campbell said: “To live in hearts we leave behind is not to die.” To which I can hear Sophie reply: “As long as there is cheesecake in the fridge, I’ll have some.”