When I was in high school my family drove to McLean, Virginia to visit my Dad’s partner and family–the German folks. Heinz and Dad were in the wood export business together, working for King Furneer Werk (Veneer Work) out of Frankfort, Germany. They bought logs for veneer and exported them to the plant in Frankfort. The veneer was then made into fine furniture and paneling, etc. Dad’s territory was the Midwest, while Heinz took on the Eastern Coastal region. Our family had never been to the east coast before and boy were we excited for this trip! McLean is just outside Washington D.C. so of course we toured all the sites we could lay our eyes on in one day. I think I pinched myself when we drove past the White House! Then we traveled on north a couple hours. I’ll never forget popping over a hill and seeing steel……………..massive tall steel structures everywhere…with smog. Everything was gray, and charcoal and…………that was my very first glimpse of New York City! We left our very green state of Iowa, the end of May, to fix our eyes on this? Shocking! People were friendly, though, and everyone could tell we weren’t from the east coast because of our accents. 🙂 No one seemed to know where IOWA was!! “Didn’t they have to learn their geography just like we did??,” I kept asking myself. It was the first time I was thankful for my good education. We dropped off my brother at JFK airport for his flight to Frankfort. Brian would spend that entire summer working at the veneer factory and living with a German family. We were just a year apart…..he had just graduated from high school and I could hardly believe he was going so far away, all alone. I thought he was very brave. Turned out to be a awesome experience for him, made many friends and is still in the wood business today. Yes, he can speak German. 🙂
Dad’s partner and wife, Heinz and Eve, were originally from Germany…..100% German and they were proud of it. It was so interesting to hear them speak German in their home. They and their families, friends and neighbors fell on very hard times during WWII. Very Hard! As a young married couple, Eve escaped Berlin and made it all the way to France…with child. At one point, American soldiers picked her up and helped her. Can you imagine? One woman and a entire truckload of soldiers! I remember her saying how frightened she was and how the American soldiers were very good to her. Heinz was a German soldier. The stories they told were horrendous. INCONCEIVABLE! Can you imagine leaving your family, home, your city…. bombed and in ruins…….the people scatter……………..you have no idea where your loved ones are. Eve’s dad was the chief of police in Berlin. He was caught saying something against Hitler and his government and was thrown in jail. Eve was able to visit her daddy once a week and bring him a little bit of food. She would travel quite a ways on bicycle for this weekly rendezvous.
Eve was a very accomplished, classy lady. Beautiful! Coming from some money, she had a very good education, spoke several languages and worked at the American Embassy in D.C. as an interpreter. And she was a GREAT cook. Her meals were heavy and rich and full of flavor. She even made us oxtail soup with blood sausage!!!! One dessert she served us in her very German dining room, arrayed with wooden pieces, pottery and beautiful dishes, was this phenomenal cheesecake. To my knowledge, Mom had never made cheesecake before then, and so this became one of her “fancy” staple desserts for holidays and special entertaining. Think I’ve had it about every year for Christmas or birthday since 1971. 😉
Like I said, it’s heavy and rich……….. and really, really good food. Eve served it in a bowl (like you would ice cream) with fresh and strawberries and lots and lots of juice to soak into the cheesecake. The presentation isn’t grand, but the taste certainly is! And that’s the way Mom served it…..and that’s the way I always serve it. 🙂 Funny how that works! Sometimes I make this recipe as is, and sometimes I make it with a graham cracker crust. Either way, I find it irresistible.
- ½ c butter
- 2 c corn flake crumbs
- Optional crust:
- ¾ c finely chopped walnuts
- ¾ c graham crackers
- 4- 8 oz packages cream cheese
- 1 c sour cream
- 3 T flour
- 11/2 c sugar
- 2T lemon juice
- 6 eggs
- 1t lemon rind, grated
- 1t orange rind, grated
- 1 pint fresh strawberries, sliced
- ½ c strawberry preserves
- For the topping:
- 4 oz cream cheese (room temperature)
- 2 oz sour cream
- ¼ C powdered sugar
- For crust:
- Melt butter, add corn flake crumbs. Form crust in a spring form pan and refrigerate
- For cake:
- Combine cheese, sour cream, lemon juice and rinds. Beat at medium speed, adding sugar and flour combined, ¼ at a time. Beat until fluffy.
- Add eggs, one at a time, beating until blended
- Pour over crust.
- Bake 10 min at 400 degrees; then bake 1 hr and 15 min at 300 degrees.
- Turn off oven and leave another 30 min.
- Cool on rack and refrigerate over night.
- Optional toppings:
- Serve with a strawberry topping or
- Shown topping: Mix the cream cheese, sour cream and powdered sugar together until smooth. Spread on top. Garish with fruit (optional).
Back to the Germans: Heinz was a character! He was very, very funny! I’m sure he used humor a lot to get him through the very hard times in his life. Humor helps! Heinz was the center of attention and had more stories than you could ever imagine. He captured everyone’s attention in the room! He would even play the parts of his main characters in each story. We loved having them when they came to Iowa for a visit. One time he proclaimed he wanted to ride our horse, and so he did. And he fell off! Thought we’d never hear the end of that story! Ha!
Towards the end of the war, Heinz and many other soldiers hid out. A farm family in southern Germany hid Heinz in their barn for several months until the war ended. Decades later, after Heinz’s retirement, he and another German buddy visited that small farm near Munich. He knocked on their door, and the person who opened it immediately recognized him and yelled, “******** It’s Heinzy!!!!” They were so glad to see one another, after all those years! Can you imagine that reunion with the plethora of amazing recollections. I sigh, heavily.
When WWII ended, Heinz and Eve found one another, and Heinz met his first child, a baby boy, Michael. Sometimes a meal would be 1 egg, split among the 3 of them. (Our scraps from 1 meal could probably feed them for many!) I remember her saying that everyone……everyone…………was deathly thin. They, along with many other German families moved to South America!!!! to Argentina to start their lives over. So they went from German culture to Spanish culture. There they bore another son. Then, they moved to Washington D.C. and had another son. Years later they had a little girl. When we met, Patricia was just 2. Her first sentences were a mix of German, Spanish and English! Ha! Only her mamma and papa could understand her! Their oldest son and family still live in Argentina. They have relatives, of course, in and around Berlin and many here on the east coast. What an interesting life! In Germany, they were city dwellers. In Argentina, they were city dwellers in Buenos Aries, and in McLean, they were city folk, as well. Coming to the farm country in Adair County was definitely a culture shock, but they enjoyed every minute of it. Heinz is gone now and Eve is in her 90’s. I always felt so honored to know a family so rich in experiences so different than my own.
I think of them every time I eat a piece of cheesecake. My heart warms and I smile.