The Cheesecake Chronicles by
25
(36 Stories)

Prompted By Recipes

Loading Share Buttons...

/ Stories

(Note: I’ve touched on some of this in previous stories, but it’s fun contextualizing it all here.)

Some kid named Steven Spielberg was a friend of my boss and, before he landed his first gig, basically squatted in the tiny empty office across from mine.

I still have my very first cookbook, the “Fun to Cook Book,” which was actually a promotional piece. Almost every recipe contains Carnation Evaporated Milk — cocoa, soup, scrambled eggs, mac and cheese, and desserts like orange pie with a graham cracker crumb crust…a hint of things to come. My grandmother lived with us during my entire childhood, and she and my mom shared cooking responsibilities for our sprawling family. Frozen and canned vegetables were staples, as were meat loaf and fish sticks. On rare occasions, my grandmother baked a plain cake with a broiled brown sugar and coconut frosting that was out of this world. On other occasions, my mother made what she called a cheese pie that we devoured with gusto.

///

Living in Hollywood, our lives pretty much revolved around “the industry.” My twin brothers became actors, my mother became a talent agent, and I eventually went to work for Universal Studios, first in the steno pool, then as a secretary. Even my grandmother hopped onboard, joining Motion Picture Mothers, Inc., a charitable organization, and hobnobbing with the likes of Lucille Ball’s mother, “Dee Dee.” As a fundraiser, they published the “Cookbook of the Stars” (which became the second cookbook in my collection), and both of my actor brothers were featured. Keith shared my mom’s Everyday Meat Loaf recipe, and Kevin shared her Cheese Pie recipe.

///

In 1968 I moved into my own place situated atop a hill on five acres of what had once been an elegant estate but was now a run-down eyesore. I had a new family of freaky friends and saw possibilities in the cobbled-together rabbit warren of rooms that must at one time have been servants’ quarters, and in the tangled gardens, stable, fountain, bird bath, dried up pond, and empty, cracked swimming pool with a panoramic view of the valley. A steady stream of unshaven young men and women came and went…some stayed for a night, others for a few months, some for years. Although I wasn’t much of a cook — all I really knew how to make was my mom’s meat loaf and what had now become my ever popular cheesecake — I soon learned how to cook for a crowd, hearty but inexpensive one-dish meals like split pea soup, lentil stew, ratatouille, chili, spaghetti, and talarini. My third cookbook, Alice May Brock’s “The Alice’s Restaurant Cookbook,” included a recording of Arlo Guthrie singing “You can get anything you want, at Alice’s restaurant (excepting Alice).” In the opening pages Alice recommended you have a nice comfy easy chair in your kitchen and plenty of wine…for cooking and for drinking, and I took her advice on all counts. I also took lots of drugs, most but not all of them psychedelic, and hosted weekly poker games that usually ended when the sun came up or we ran out of blow, whichever came first. But still I held down a job, and drove an old Porsche 356 SC.

///

Working at Universal Studios, I met and even got to know a fair number of celebrities. Elvis Presley, who was shooting the movie “Change of Habit” with Mary Tyler Moore, shook my hand and murmured, rather sensuously I thought, “Pleased to meet you, ma’am.” (I was 22 to his, what, 34?) George Hamilton spotted me in the commissary and invited me to take a spin around the lot in his pearl gray Maserati. Our production team moved up the ladder and then down and out into one of the coveted bungalows on the back lot where the guys could forego the suits and ties and wear their hair long. I dyed my own hair red, wore a hooded cape, and brought my dog Bosco to work. I brought in pot brownies and cheesecakes — my signature Pumpkin Spice around the holidays. Some kid named Steven Spielberg was a friend of my boss and, before he landed his first gig, basically squatted in the tiny empty office across from mine. A huge fan of my cheesecake — he even ordered a few to take home — he also kept asking me to make Xerox copies of stuff he was writing until I finally asked my boss, “Jerry, could you please tell Steven I’m not his secretary?” Eventually, increasingly surly for no good reason, I decided to quit my job. I would make cheesecakes for a living, and for a while I did just that until, less than a year later, a guy showed up at a poker game who would ten months later become the father of my child. And so it goes.

///

After I moved to Hawaii with my seven-year-old daughter, cheesecakes played another role in my life when I began baking them for restaurants there. One thing led to another and, based on the strength of that one dessert, and various permutations of it — my newly coined Very Berry and Nutty Hazel — I opened up a little restaurant. I called it Pot Luck, “A Different Kind of Deli.” After just a few years I sold it, for a variety of colorful reasons, but primarily because it was pretty much impossible to get, and keep, good help. Most young people aren’t in Hawaii to work, they’re there to party.

///

Fast forward a few decades and I began making a variety of mini “liqueur” cheesecakes  — I dubbed them Kahlua, Amaretto, Sambuca, and Grand Marnier, although they contained not liquor but flavored extracts — coffee, almond, anise, and orange respectively. I even entertained the idea of launching a new business, but after making just a few batches, despite the fact that everyone, my husband especially, urged me to move forward with the plan, I thought, “Nope, been there, done that.” But they are a big hit at parties.

///

So finally, here it is, THE basic cheesecake recipe, written in my grandmother’s own hand. That said, my mother once told me that SHE had found the recipe on the Philadelphia Cream Cheese package (!), so maybe my grandmother copied it into her cookbook. We’ll never know, but now you know “my” famous cheesecake recipe.

Profile photo of Barbara Buckles Barbara Buckles
Artist, writer, storyteller, spy. Okay, not a spy…I was just going for the rhythm.

I call myself “an inveterate dabbler.” (And my husband calls me “an invertebrate babbler.”) I just love to create one way or another. My latest passion is telling true stories live, on stage. Because it scares the hell out of me.

As a memoirist, I focus on the undercurrents. Drawing from memory, diaries, notes, letters and photographs, I never ever lie, but I do claim creative license when fleshing out actual events in order to enhance the literary quality, i.e., what I might have been wearing, what might have been on the table, what season it might have been. By virtue of its genre, memoir also adds a patina of introspection and insight that most probably did not exist in real time.

Visit Author's Website



Tags: cheesecake
Characterizations: funny, right on!, well written

Comments

  1. Ah, at last the famous BB cheese cake recipe we’ve all been waiting for – and probably from the Philly package after all!

    Can’t wait to try it!

  2. Marian says:

    I’m so glad you filled us in on the cheesecake backstory, Barb. Your fascinating narrative brings back all kinds of sensual memories. I actually liked those fish sticks when I was a kid. Your Hollywood experiences are amazing. My family listens to “Alice’s Restaurant” religiously every Thanksgiving, although I think my mom is confused by the whole thing. During my grad student days I had almost the opposite experience to your cooking large quantities of food. Money was so scarce that my roommate and I would run short of food. We’d get the cheapest dark tuna in a can, put Campbell’s cream of mushroom soup over it, with chow mein noodles if they were available, and cook it. Can’t stand any of it to this day.

  3. Barbara how you can pack so much material so smoothly into a wonderful story. Hmmm. Probably has to do with perfecting cheesecake consistency. Especially love the Pot Luck a different kind of deli. . . .

  4. John Shutkin says:

    What a build-up, Barb! You teased us about your memorable cheesecake recipe a few stories ago, and I feared you were going to do the same thing again here. But — PHEW! — you delivered the good right at the end. You really are a child of Hollywood!

    Now I will have to compare your grandmother’s “cheese pie” recipe with my mother’s. And I would not be surprised if they were similar, as I have a vague recollection of my mother also saying that her recipe was actually derived from a Philadelphia Cream Cheese package recipe. But, not being Steven Spielberg, I will not ask you to compare the two and give me a “red-line;” I’ll handle this awesome task myself.

  5. Betsy Pfau says:

    FABULOUS vignettes, Barb! Yes, you’ve shared bits and pieces, but not from this point of view (love the encounter with Elvis and that pesky guy, uh, what was his name…Spielberg something?). And the evolution of the cheesecake from your grandmother’s recipe (or was it really Philly’s), to your various, increasingly famous permutations. You pulled it all together beautifully.

    The first year of my marriage (coming up on 46 in a few weeks), a close friend started dating a guy who brought cheesecakes up from NYC called Baby Watson Cheesecake and sold them in a stall in The Garage in Harvard Square with a business partner. Their slogan (honestly) was “the creamiest thing you’ll ever put in your mouth” (this was 1975). He also hired a local woman (who grew up in NYC in the same building that Marilyn Monroe lived in while studying with Lee Strasberg) to bake for the shop. Her name was Judy Rosenberg and she baked brownies she called Chocolate Orgasms. Baby Watson eventually closed, she want out on her own, opened in Cambridge (Inman Sq, for those of you who know Cambridge) and around the corner from me in Chestnut Hill and ran it there, very successfully until last year.

  6. gbuckles says:

    When I first met Barb I was amazed (and sometimes a bit skeptical) about all her crazy Hollywood stories. But, with almost every story, she would pull out some piece of memorabilia to back it up. She still does it to this day. Never ceases to amaze me.
    PS. Her cheesecakes are AMAZING!

  7. Suzy says:

    As you said on my story, how great that we both still have our first little kiddie cookbooks, even if yours was a promotional piece for Carnation. I love the pages you show, saying “I dreamed I was in dessert land! (floating on big fluffy clouds of whipped Carnation).” And then how amazing that your twin brothers were in a Hollywood cookbook along with Doris Day. Looks like she may have autographed it too. And your Alice’s Restaurant cookbook, complete with Arlo Guthrie record . . . You have certainly outdone the rest of us with your cooking stories, even before you get to Steven Spielberg asking you to make copies (classic!) and ordering your cheesecakes. Good thing it’s not a competition!

    I would have loved to go to your deli in Hawaii, I bet it was a great place to hang out . . . and of course eat cheesecake. And I am salivating over your mini liqueur cheesecakes! Since I am surrounded by lactose-intolerant people, I doubt I will ever have a chance to use your cheesecake recipe, but I hope some day to sample one that you make, unless you have given it up for good!

    • It would be SO much fun if we were able to have some kind of get-together with fellow Retrospecters some day in which case I would definitely supply the cheesecake(s). Actually, everyone could bring what they wrote about. Let’s all meet in Chicago! How about next spring! Wait, that won’t work…no kitchen that way. Oh well…it was a nice dream for a few minutes.

  8. Laurie Levy says:

    Wow, Barb, thanks for sharing this remarkable story as well as your grandmother’s basic cheesecake recipe. So often, “famous” recipes handed down to me from my mother actually came straight from the packaging (chocolate chip cookies come to mind). What an interesting life you have led. Your stories of meeting Elvis, George Hamilton, and a young Steven Spielberg are amazing. You are a great story teller, and I’m sure you make a wickedly good cheesecake!

    • Thank you so much, Laurie! And you’re absolutely right, I think the Toll House Cookie recipe right on the Nestlé’s package is the best chocolate chip cookie recipe going and make them for holiday gifts every year. Everyone always makes a big deal about how good they are…I just follow the recipe.

  9. John Zussman says:

    I loved this story, Barbara, which is really a “cook’s tour” (couldn’t resist that metaphor) of your most interesting life and times. So much of our generation’s experience is reflected here. You spoke of baking pot brownies — did you ever try pot cheesecake? I ask because I had a chance to sample some at a friend’s dispensary a while back — talk about the best of both worlds! Fortunately I had designated driver, because I could NOT have driven home. Would love to sample your cheesecake someday!

    • Thanks, John! Never did try pot cheesecake…edibles is (are?) a world unto itself. I imagine it takes a lot of trial and error to come with the perfect recipe. I keep mentioning I hope we’ll have a get-together one of these days, and if we do, I promise to bring cheesecake, maybe leaded and unleaded.

Leave a Reply