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Cheesecake history is definitely a long story to tell. It dates back to ancient Rome, lasts through medieval traditions of European countries and evolves nowadays in bakeries and home kitchens all around the world. A curious piece of cheesecake history is described by George S. Wykoff in 1928 in his Cheesecakes in Literature work.
The origin of the term "cheesecakes" in Anglo-Saxon: "cheese" is from the Old English word tzscheeze, meaning cheese or curd; "cake" from the Old English word kaake, meaning cake; hence, cheesecake, a cake made with cheese or curds; the delight of the human kind since the dawn of the universe, and possibly one of the chief factors in the civilization of the world.
The term itself first occurs in the Commentaries of Caesar Volume XXXII, Chapter 17, under the name of morsus delicious. Caesar has been describing his conquest of Gaul and Britain, and in picturing the customary manners of the ancient Celts, he tells of the marvelous delicacy which he found these half-civilized savages gourmandizing in great circular shaped masses; in fact, it seemed to be the chief calory-containing food substance in their diet.
Cheesecake history, 1st century BC
Caesar's British discovery became the chief glory of the age.
You may remember somewhat famous passage: "Que cum appropinquarent Britannice et ex castris viderentur morsus deiciosus, tanta tempests subito coorta set deliciousus." Caesar then gives a most naive recipe for baking of cheesecakes, and says that, when he returned to Rome, his British discovery became the chief glory of the age.
Cheesecake history, 14th century AC
The host takes from his lunchbox a huge slice of cheesecake, and, waiting until the Baronet is declaiming the loudest, skillfully throws it over the heads of four other Pilgrims into his mouth, and effectually concludes the narrative.
The popularity of cheesecakes continued through the centuries, and though the term is not specifically recorded in the written records of the people, there are are hints in Bede's History and Alfred's Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, which are believable and trustworthy evidence for assuming that these ancient authors waxed merry over many a bowl and platter of milk and cheesecakes. Chaucer - and I feel proud in assigning to him, for the first time, the epithet, "the poet of the dawn" - makes definite use of the word. In rhyming burlesque of Sir Thopas, this knight has recited some several hundred lines of his poem, when the grouchy old host exclaims: "Drat on this dratty rhyming - cease!" But Sir Thopas is so enveloped in his story that he continues his narrative, rocking to and fro on his horse in time to the metro. The genial host is so exasperated that he takes from his lunchbox a huge slice of cheesecake, and, waiting until the Baronet is declaiming the loudest, skillfully throws it over the heads of four other Pilgrims into his mouth, and effectually concludes the narrative.
The incident of Chaucer's relation is believed to be the original of some of the elements in the slapstick farces of modern motion pictures, especially the recently popular piece-throwing habit, but I need not go further into the matter as it has been full in covered in Professor Searchem's excellent treatise, What Cheesecakes Have Done for American Movies.
The tradition is carried on by Spenser as the greatest of the non-dramatic Elizabethans. This wily poet well knew good Queen Bess's fondness of cheesecakes, and his desire to propitiate her and gain patronage led him to pay her the elaborate compliment of mentioning the delicacy several times in the immortal Faerie Queen. In his letter of design to Sir Walter Raleigh, he says: "My plan is to have the Faerie Queen hold a banquet for twelve successive days, at which every one is to be given as much cheesecake as he can eat. A knight is to be sent forth on a quest each day," etc. The second reference occurs in the thirteenth canto of the First Book. The Red Cross Knight has slain his eighteenth monster, as the clock strikes twelve noon, and we have that beautiful, idyllic picture of Una and St. George as they are sitting together under a shadowy oak tree and feasting on their simple lunch of lamb's milk and cheesecake sandwiches. One stanza quoted will be more than sufficient:
Beneath the spreading chestnut's spreading leaves,
They laid their simple luncheon on the green;
Of lamb's milk was it, and cakes of cheeze,
Delicious banquet more had ne'er been seen.
And in the shining sunlight's summer sheen
Whoe'er might happen to have passed that way
Did see a joyous, feasting pair, I ween,
Fair Una and the Knight of Red Cross gay,
Who vowed the cakes of cheeze had truly won the days.
Queer, indeed would it have been if the greatest immortal of the immortals had neglected to utilize this now widely popular viand, and my most careful study of Shakespeare's works and life has been richly rewarded by my learning that he was fully aware of its importance both for dramatic and biographical purposes. In fact, while browsing in Stratford-on-Avon not long ago, I accidentally stumbled upon some entirely new materials which I am sure will be of untold value to future writers of the life of the famous bard. One is a brief letter from Shakespeare to the Earl of Southampton, dated 1601 at London, which explains why he married Anne Hathaway. Let me quote a pertinent paragraph:
You ask me, milord, why I was so foolish as to marry a woman eight years older than myself, when there were so many pretty young belles in the country seeking husbands. Ah, milord, do you not remember that famous line in my first play, "The way to a man's heart is through his stomach"? Let me tell you than, that my Anna can bake the most delicious cheesecakes that ever melted in the mortal mouth of man. Add to this most necessary quality of a charming personality, a handsome figure, and a rather pretty face - my Anna would stand a good chance in a beauty show - and you will believe me when I say that I should have married her had she been forty-eight, instead of eight, years my senior. Milord, I simply can't resist cheesecakes; my mouth waters even now at the thought of those my Anna bakes, and were it not for the fact that I go down to Stratford every month or so, there to feast on this solid nectar of gods, I should be tempted to chuck this whole stage of business of writing and acting plays, and retire to the old home town to live, as I sometime mean to do. I am, milord, etc.,etc.
Cheesecake history, 17th century AC
You ask me, milord, why I was so foolish as to marry a woman eight years older than myself, when there were so many pretty young belles in the country seeking husbands. Milord, I simply can't resist cheesecakes.
Further evidence is found in the Hathaway cottage at Shottery. There in the living room, is an old wooden dining table, and a careful observer will see, carved in rude letters along the edge on one side, presumably by Shakespeare, the following: "At this table did W. S. eat cheesecakes baked by Anne H., Nov. 14 1582." What a lovely domestic scene these words convey! A cheery, roaring fire blazing in the fireplace, the slender, graceful Anne setting home-brewed cider and home-baked cheesecakes before the young gentlemen, and Will, seated on a low stool, busily eating, drinking and carving at the same time. I should not be surprised if it were some day shown that it was his fondness of Shakespeare for cheesecakes baked by Anne Hathaway which led him to formulate the clause in his will bequeathing to his wife that most valued piece of furniture, his second best bed.
Cheesecake history, 16th century AC
When Bacon finished a play, he had it baked in a huge cheesecake, and this was sent to Shakespeare, whose appetite for this delicate pastry everybody probably knew, and who could then proceed to publish and produce the play, with no one suspecting a thing other than that one friend had sent an appetizing delicacy to another.
There is much in this matter, too, that has a bearing on the Shakespeare-Baconian controversy. I am not an adherent to the Baconian theory, but if I were, I should here find much material that would be more logical than this: when Bacon finished a play, he had it baked in a huge cheesecake, and this was sent to Shakespeare, whose appetite for this delicate pastry everybody probably knew, and who could then proceed to publish and produce the play, with no one suspecting a thing other than that one friend had sent an appetizing delicacy to another. What simplifies the whole matter still is that Bacon's name might not have been Bacon at all - but Baker.
Assuming, however, that Shakespeare wrote his own plays, let us see what use he made, dramatically, of cheesecakes. One instance will suffice. Few people are cognizant of the fact that Hamlet owes its very origin and conception to cheesecakes. We know well that Shakespeare did not believe in ghosts, and, moreover, that he himself well knew the people of his time had long been incredulous in matters of supernatural occurrence. How, then, was he to get around this difficulty, and start the action of his play, without using perfectly obvious and unsatisfactory method of the deus ex machina? He himself explains how he overcame this obstacle in a note suffixed to the printed programme of the play on its first presentation, which material was later included in the preface to the second quarto edition in 1598. The part of the note relevant to our subject is as follows:
"There must be a logical explanation whenever a person sees a ghost.
Marcellus and Bernardo, Danes of the Danish, were, like the others of their race, heavy drinkers, and were undoubtedly always drunk enough to see anything. But what Horatio and Hamlet, especially the latter, whose ardent temperance and prohibitionary tendencies I have well painted in this play? How can their seeing the Ghost be made logical and natural? It's easy - for a playwright like me! Horatio had just come from the University of Wittenberg, bringing with him one of the most loved delicacies of the university students, an eighteen-pound cheesecake. In the attendant joy at their reunion these two had sat down and consumed the whole at one sitting. In this condition I maintain that they could have seen anything, including ghosts and far worse, for the next week at least. If any of my spectators doubt it, let them consume nine pounds of cheesecake, and then faithfully record everything they think they see.
Hamlet probably has this experience in mind later in the play when he says at the end of his all too little known soliloquy: "Thus cheesecake doth make cowards of us all!"
Cheesecake history, 16th century AC
Horatio had just come from the University of Wittenberg, bringing with him one of the most loved delicacies of the university students, an eighteen-pound cheesecake.
There is one other phrase of this subject in reference to Shakespeare which is worthy of record, but as it is purely speculative and depends for proof on undiscovered documents, I shall set it down for what it is worth only as a suggestion to future scholars. Since Shakespeare was so exceedingly fond of cheesecake, it is entirely natural that he should have made arrangements in his old age for a magnificent specimen of this dainty to be buried with him when he died; then, being keenly sensitive of this quite excusable indulgence in sentimentality, and wishing to keep posterity from ever finding out anything about it, he had inscribed on his tombstone the well-known epitaph.
Cheesecake history, 17th century AC
Milton's Paradise Lost should include among the delights discovered by Adam and Eve that soul-satisfying one we have been dealing with, namely, cheesecake.
I have spent so much time and space on the relation of Shakespeare to cheesecakes that I must examine very cursorily only a few of the increasingly many references that occur in literate during the succeeding centuries. Biographers of Milton tell us that after his blindness he every evening made his supper of wine and cheesecake, and if Shakespeare attributed a vivid imagination to the after-effects of such a diet, surely it is no marvel that Milton should give us such a poem as Paradise Lost, and should include among the delights discovered by Adam and Eve that soul-satisfying one we have been dealing with, namely, cheesecake.
In the eighteenth century, Pope has a pertinent couplet in his Essay on Man:
A little cheesecake is a dangerous thing;
Eat much, and taste the joys that it will bring.
and Goldsmith, in his poignantly mooning sentimentality about the "Deserted Village", exclaims:
Sweet Auburn! Hallowed piece of sacred ground!
Not e'en a cheesecake now can there be found.
The writers in the romantic revival of the early Nineteenth Century seem to have overlooked the imaginative possibilities of cheesecake, but we again find it prominently mentioned toward mid-century. "Tennyson, " said Carlyle, "is the powerfulest smoker I know, and he is fonder of cheesecakes than any other man alive." Tennyson himself has made no direct or indirect use of our subject in his poetry, but there are many reasons for believing that his fondness for cheesecakes was the inspiration for his Lotus Eaters, and only the smoother onomatopoetics of the latter word caused him to use it as title and subjec-matter instead of the former.
Naturally, a period rich in creative writing as was the last half of the Nineteenth Century has much material dealing with this subject, and if any one is interested, the suggestion is hereby made that he investigate all these possibilities, and contribute to the welfare of the world and the well being of posterity a paper with some such title as The Influence of Cheesecakes on the Literature of the Later Nineteenth Century.
The North American Review © 1928 University of Northern Iowa
Throughout 20th century cheesecake has been popular not only among the writers, but among musicians as well. Praised with laughter by Luis Armstrong, craved passionately by Aerosmith, joked by King Missile, cried tenderly by Juicyning and shouted out loud by Camaros – a variety of feelings is expressed about a humble piece of crumb crust with cream filling!
Nowadays cheesecake is often associated with New York. Why New York? Just so it happened that the dairyman William Lawrence, who liked French cheese Neufchâtel, lived there. He liked it so much that started experimenting to recreate the taste and in 1872 he accidentally invented «something even better» - cream cheese which has started a modern cheesecake history in US and Canada.
Although many Americans tend to consider that cheesecake is not a cheesecake without Philadelphia cream cheese, the cake is made from different ingredients in European cooking traditions. In France cheesecakes are made with Neufchâtel cheese; Italians use ricotta; Germany, Netherlands and Poland use quark. In South America, particularly in Colombia, curd is often used as a filling.
True magic of the recipe is in its simplicity: almost every nation has its own way of making cheesecake and enjoying a festive spirit it creates. Therefore there is little surprise that cheesecake history is worldwide.
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