At the Moffat Ladd House Museum in Portsmouth, where I work, their gardens are surrounded by wild strawberries. I had some free time in the morning to go out and pick some and bring them home. Having the next day off and with the temperature finally getting out of the 90s and the humidity dropping, I thought it was a good time to make a strawberry cheesecake.
Now wild strawberries are tiny, exquisitely sweet and very small, and taste better than what you can find at the store. It takes a long time to pick a bowlful. Here you can see the wild plant, those strawberries that I picked and a modern one sitting next to the wild one. I did mention tiny, right!
My go-to receipt for cheesecake has always been the one from Plimouth Plantation 1627 that came from our receipts folder at Strawberry Banke. However, that is all the receipt says, Plimouth Plantation Cheesecake 1627. So I emailed Kathleen Wall at Plimouth and asked her if she knew the source of the receipt. As it turns out cheesecake was unlikely to be made there. HMMM, so where does this receipt come from. We really don’t know! Kathleen sent me the receipt “To make Cheesecakes other wayes” from Robert May’s The Accomplish’t Cook. This receipt had been put in modern language and has measurements; they use it as a handout.
So I went looking at Robert May’s cookbook and found he has nine receipts for cheesecake. I picked the one closest to the one I have been using, and that includes almond flour.
I mixed my flour, salt and sugar together and added my cold butter and cut it in until it looked like corn meal. Next I whipped up the egg white and water and quickly mixed that until it held together. I placed it on a floured board and made a four-inch round disk. This I wrapped and put in the refrigerator for an hour or so.
In several of May’s paste receipts he calls for the pie shell to dried, which means pre-cooked. This helps to have the pastry crispy all over. I had more dough than I needed, so I made an extra blank shell to use at the end of the week with something wonderful.
While the pie shells baked, I made the filling according to my receipt that is close to May’s, yet in a lesser amount. He was cooking cheesecake for a crowd; I’m cooking for two. I creamed the butter and sugar in the bowl then added the ground almonds, cheese, cream, mace, salt and rose water. I went easy on the rose water as I wanted the flavor of the strawberries to be the highlight. In went the eggs and everything was beaten well. I floured the strawberries before I placed them in the bowl. A light hand was needed to stir them in.
With my shell prebaked, I poured in the batter, and into the bake oven it went. The temperature in the bake oven was about 400 degrees; falling oven, (cooling) and it took just about 40 minutes to cook. I left it in the opening to cool down a bit before I removed it to the pantry to sit.
The smell of the pastry was wonderful, and I wanted to dig right in. However, I waited until it was cold and I could share it with my husband. Now, this is not your everyday cheesecake. Early receipts produce a flavor and texture very different than what we are used to in modern recipes. A small piece goes a long way. I found the strawberries to be excellent in the body of the cheesecake, and, with the faint aroma of the rose water, it really woke up all of your senses, sight, smell, taste, and the feeling on your tongue that dances in delight. An upbeat satisfied sigh in praise of this dessert completes the tour of the senses.
Go out and pick wild strawberries now before they are gone. Even if you don’t cook with them, just eating a handful will wake up your senses.
Did you know that Portsmouth N.H was once called Strawberry Banke because it was covered in this wonderful tiny fruit?
“We are bound by a small, sometimes magical fruit called the strawberry. This fruit has the power to make tears dry up, make friends with enemies, make sick people feel better, make the elderly feel younger by bringing back pleasant memories of days gone by, make acquaintances of strangers, and above all, make little children smile. What other fruit has that power?”