On the second day of Passover, we begin to count the omer (sheaves of a harvested crop). The counting concludes seven weeks later, with Shavuot (the Feast of Weeks), which has different names, but is associated with one type of food: dairy products. Hence, my sharing a few cheesecake recipes.
Song of Songs Chapter 4 reads, “honey and milk are under thy tongue,” a reference to the Torah being as nourishing as milk and as sweet as honey. Thus, on the holiday celebrating the giving of the Torah, it became traditional to eat foods with milk and honey.
Interpreters of the Tanach liked to use gematria (Jewish system of assigning numerical values to words and phrases, based on their letters). For example, Psalm 68 is read on Shavuot and, in verse 16, it reads: “A mount of G-d is the mountain of Bashan.” The Hebrew for peaks is gavnuneem, which sounds like gveeneh (cheese). One could interpret this to mean that, on Shavuot, we should eat mountains of cheese.
Another example: the values of the Hebrew letters in chalav (milk) sum to 40. Moses spent 40 days on Mount Sinai, so we eat foods with milk.
As well, there is a legend that says, until Moses descended with the Torah, kashrut was unknown so, rather than prepare the meat as per the new rules, the people ate dairy. Pragmatically, since Shavuot is a summer festival and Israel is hot, it was logical to eat light, dairy foods. Also, sheep give birth around this time, so milk and cheese are plentiful.
In the Shulchan Aruch (code of Jewish law), Rabbi Moses Isserles wrote: “It is a universal custom to eat dairy food on the first day of Shavuot.”
1 cup cream cheese
1 1/2 cups creamed cottage cheese
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup sour cream
- Preheat oven to 350°F. Spray vegetable shortening in a nine-inch round cake pan.
- Mix together cream cheese, creamed cottage cheese, sugar, eggs and vanilla. Pour into pan.
- Bake 35-40 minutes or until centre firm.
- Remove from oven and spread with sour cream while cake is hot. Cool then refrigerate.
15 graham crackers
1 tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 cup melted margarine or 3 tbsp vegetable oil
1 envelope unflavoured gelatin
1 tbsp lemon juice
grated peel of 1 lemon
1/2 cup hot water or milk
1/3 cup sugar
2 egg yolks
1 package cream cheese
1 heaping cup crushed ice
1 cup sour cream
- Break five crackers into quarters, blend to crumbs. Empty into bowl. Repeat twice more.
- Stir in sugar and cinnamon. Add melted margarine or oil and mix until crumbs are moist. Grease a spring form pan. Press crust against sides and chill.
- Mix in blender gelatin, lemon juice, lemon peel, hot water or milk 40 seconds.
- Add sugar, egg yolks and cream cheese and blend 10 seconds. Add ice and sour cream and blend 15 seconds.
- Pour onto crumb crust and chill.
MY MOM’S (Z”L) SCRUMPTIOUS CHEESE CAKE
2 cups graham cracker crumbs
1/2 cup butter or margarine or 1/4 cup plus 2 tbsp oil
1/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups cream cheese
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 tsp vanilla
2 cups sour cream
2 tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla
- Preheat oven to 350°F.
- Combine crushed crackers, butter, margarine or oil, sugar and cinnamon and press into spring form pan.
- Bake 10 minutes.
- Combine the filling’s cream cheese, eggs, sugar and vanilla with a mixer until fluffy. Pour into crust and bake 30 minutes.
- Beat topping’s sour cream, sugar and vanilla. When cake is done, remove from oven and spread topping on it. Return to oven and bake 10 minutes.
- Serve with cherries, crushed pineapple or strawberries on top.
Sybil Kaplan is a journalist, lecturer, book reviewer and food writer in Jerusalem. She created and leads the weekly English-language Shuk Walks in Machane Yehuda, she has compiled and edited nine kosher cookbooks, and is the author of Witness to History: Ten Years as a Woman Journalist in Israel.