Blue Ribbon Cheesecake: The Recipe That Started It All. Is Cooking in Our DNA?

Our mother-daughter reunion. With cheesecake.

Square Cheesecake 2

Donna’s Blue Ribbon Cheesecake – Shared After Our Reunion in 1999

“We wouldn’t be family if we didn’t exchange recipes, would we?”

Rewind to 1998. Not that long, in the grand scheme of things. The idea of even sharing a meal with my biological mother – let alone cooking with her, side by side, exchanging pointers and laughing, casual as can be – was a fantasy pipe dream. It seemed as farfetched as winning the lottery or marrying John Cusack. No sense bemoaning it, that was just the way my life turned out. I had plenty of other things to be thankful for, including a loving adoptive family.

Within a year, everything changed.

Most people my age remember exactly what they were doing on momentus days. July 20, 1969 – Americans first walked on the moon. November 22, 1963 – JFK was shot. Terrorists attack America – September 11, 2001. I am blessed to have another day as if it were yesterday: October 24, 1999, the day that I saw my 27-year-old daughter for the first time in 27 years.

It was, as you might guess, an overwhelming experience. I fell in love with Anne the minute I laid eyes on her at the airport. I was flooded with pure joy, and I in turn wanted to flood Anne with love and warmth and acceptance and with me. An unexpected impulse came to me: SHARE RECIPES. And not just any old recipes: The good ones, the Blue-Ribbon Ones, and Yes! the cheesecake recipe.

Sharing my very best food with Anne was a tangible way of welcoming her to my life, to my family. It was a way of making our connection real. Making her a part of us. Nothing but the best was acceptable; hence, the Blue Ribbon Cheesecake recipe was the first to be shared.

I had always been proud of this recipe. It was the early 1980’s, when everyone was making the easy no-cook Jello-pudding refrigerator version of cheesecake in a graham cracker crust. I took great pride in making a baked Italian cheesecake taught to me by a fabulous Italian cook and neighbor of mine from Italy. I knew it was good, because I had entered it in the county fair and much to my amazement I won a Blue Ribbon in a competition among dozens of cheesecakes. So I knew it was worthy of sharing with Anne.

In making up for lost time between a birth mom and her daughter, there is no time for mediocre things. Only the ultimate, only the best cheesecake would be good enough for Anne. Good enough for Us. And so The Story of Us began.

— Text in italics by Donna

Within a few months we began communicating in earnest, we moved from handwritten letters to long, lingering phone calls to regular emails, getting to know each other little by little, story by story . . . and, eventually, bite by bite. And it was in one of those first emails that our first recipe exchange took place: Donna, writing the opening line of this post, shared the recipe for her cheesecake, which really did win a blue ribbon at a county fair. We connected powerfully, quickly and permanently, partly because of our shared love of cooking.

And now, through the modern miracle of the world wide web, we are privileged to share our journey and this family cheesecake recipe with you.

We’ll tell our stories as we go – not chronologically, for the most part, but over time you’ll get a sense of the whole. One of the things we love about blogging is that it is by its very nature a work in progress. So we”ll share our reunion, and talk about how we started connecting through food together. We’ll also talk about our individual stories, too, our personal histories with food and cooking and all the complexity therein – as well as sharing stuff that’s just plain delicious.

Welcome to our Reunion ~ with cheesecake!


Cooking: It’s in our D & A.

Now, settle in, pull up a chair with us and have some cheesecake!

It seems to me that our three basic needs, for food and security and love, are so mixed and mingled and entwined that we cannot straightly think of one without the others. So it happens that when I write of hunger, I am really writing about love and the hunger for it, and warmth and the love of it and the hunger for it and then the warmth and richness and fine reality of hunger satisfied and it is all one.  M.F.K. Fisher


Blue Ribbon Cheesecake
baked Italian style cheesecake
  • 1 3/4 cup sugar, divided
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 cup unbleached all purpose flour, divided
  • 4 large eggs, separated
  • 1 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 32 ounces cream cheese at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 2 cups sour cream
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cream butter and 1/2 cup of sugar in a mixer until light yellow and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add in egg yolk. Slowly add in 7/8 cup of the flour until mixed. Press dough into bottom and 1 inch up sides of a 9 inch springform pan. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes, until firm and lightly browned. Cool to room temperature.Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Place egg whites in mixing bowl with cream of tartar and whip until stiff peaks. Set aside. Mix remaining ingredients together. Fold in egg whites.Bake in center of oven for 10 minutes. Without opening oven door, reduce oven heat to 325 degrees and continue to bake for another 60 minutes or so, until lightly browned and almost set in center. Turn off oven heat and open oven door and let stand in oven for 30 minutes. Remove from oven and refrigerate for at least 3 hours before serving.Run knife around outside edge of cheesecake and loosen sides of pan. Slice into wedges and serve slightly chilled or at room temperature.

Prep time: 20 mins Cook time: 1 hour 20 mins Total time: 2 hour Yield: 1 9″ cheesecake


  1. says

    Hi Anne and Donna! Oh how I wish you were coming to BlogHerFood next week so we could catch up! Great job on the remodel of the blog. Love the concept. Look forward to all the stories. And oh how great that red kitchenaid would match my red accents in my kitchen…

  2. says

    Kudos to the two of you for telling your story through food. And nice to meet you Donna at Campblogaway. I look forward to your story unfolding on your new site.

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