The Cookbook.

8 Years ago, when I told my family I’d been hired by The Eli’s Cheesecake Company, they weren’t very surprised. I’d always loved cheesecakes, especially when I was little, and Eli’s was (and still is) the best around. I got this love from my grandfather – he was a great cheesecake maker and every time I taste a new flavor, I think of him.

I’ve also been thinking of my bridal shower lately, way back in ‘03. My paternal grandmother had made each grandchild (she had 6) a quilt for his or her wedding day, and though she was no longer around by the time I got engaged she had a lovely yellow quilt waiting for me in the back of her closet. My aunts were wise enough to have me open the gift box containing the quilt a few minutes before the shower began, because they knew that I could possibly cry when I opened it.

Well, I did.

What they didn’t expect was that I would also cry when I opened another gift later that day. My aunt had photocopied all of my late grandfather’s hand-written recipes and assembled them into a binder for me. From grandpa is where I got my love for food, my mad cooking skills, my red hair, and my “colorful” use of the English language. In that binder were 187 recipes: my favorite Turkey Tetrazzini, all of his cookie recipes, and 11 recipes for cheesecake. Pecan Cheesecake. Cheesecake cupcakes. Mini Cheesecakes. Orange Butterscotch Cheesecake. Benny’s Cheesecake. I always wondered who Benny was. I looked at these recipes, each painstakingly written out by hand in my grandpa’s shaky block capitals, and I cried in front of all of the guests. I’m sure they thought it was adorable and charming.

Not so much.

Above: Photo of my grandfather,
taken during the war.

I pulled out Grandpa’s Cookbook last week for Easter dinner. I was looking for ideas, and though I decided not to prepare anything from his book this year, thankfully my dad did. Dad made his grandmother’s German potato salad. And though we’ve never met, I feel a certain kinship with my Great Grandma Weisenberg. What a name! Her German potato salad is served warm, vinegary and sweet, and smoky from the bacon. I can’t bear to re-print her potato salad recipe here. Call me selfish, but it’s just too special to share with the world. I will share a recipe for grandpa’s favorite cheesecake topping. Not really a recipe, it’s so simple…it’s more like a serving suggestion. I’ll also share his recipe for Snowball Cookies. My aunt Kathy (thank goodness) still makes them for us from time to time.

Hank’s Favorite Cheesecake Topping
1 pint fresh strawberries, hulled and quartered
1/2 cup granulated sugar

Place strawberries in a non-metal bowl and mash lightly with a potato masher (or with the back of a big spoon). Sprinkle sugar on top of the berries and set aside for about 30 minutes before using it to top cheesecake or ice cream. If you’ve never macerated fruit before, you’ll be surprised at the amount of liquid that is extruded.

Hank’s Snowball Cookies Makes about 3 dozen
½ cup butter
3 tbsp granulated sugar
1 ½ tsp. vanilla extract
¼ tsp. salt
1 cup finely ground pecans
1 cup all purpose flour
1 ½ cups powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 250 degrees F. Cream butter, sugar and salt in an electric mixer. Add the vanilla and blend well. On low speed, slowly mix in the flour. Stir in the pecans. Using clean hands, form dough into small balls, about 1 inch in diameter. Place on greased cookie sheet and bake on the top rack of the oven for 40-45 minutes. While the balls are still hot, roll in powdered sugar. When cool, roll again in the powdered sugar and serve.

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