Last fall, just before Thanksgiving, I lost my brother, Harry. It was a terrible loss for me; he was my last remaining family member. He knew all of the old jokes and stories—he was the conduit to my childhood.
We shared the same father; he was my half-brother.
We “got him” in 1958 when I was 4 years old and he was 21. He had escaped from East Germany and was staying with my grandparents in Wiesbaden, (then) West Germany while he was being processed by the FBI to be given permission to come to the U.S. My mother, younger brother and I were visiting my grandparents that summer when we met him for the first time. Frank (my little brother) and I absolutely fell in love with him at first sight.
He lived with us in the duplex we rented in Montclair and moved up to the lake with us in ’63, helping to renovate the little house my parents bought on Castle Rock Road. He and Horst, my dad, renovated the house from top to bottom, banishing the bats from the attic, insulating the walls, redoing the bathroom. Harry could do anything. It was amazing.
He fixed cars, he was an accomplished photographer—he even converted half of his bedroom into a darkroom and was making Cibachrome color prints in there back in the 70s.
Everything he did, he did to perfection and always with the very best tools. My son, Francis, and I like to joke about the “Uncle Harry Effect.” Fran and I have inherited the need to buy only the best tools for our work, hobbies and interests. “Only the best is good enough,”
Harry used to say.
Harry loved all things high-tech—he built a stereo system for us and even built our first color TV. I can still remember watching “Bonanza” on Sunday nights and going to bed with my eyes burning because I couldn’t shut them, not wanting to miss any of the color images on the screen.
Harry got married and moved with his wife to central New Jersey in 1979. When he retired before Emily, he started doing all of the cooking. We visited them often and were treated to many wonderful meals at their table. Most memorable were the desserts Harry made.
He was a genius at pie baking and, honestly, I have never tasted better pies. He would freeze pints of blueberries in the summer so he would have a stash to use over the winter. When we would go down to visit, the first thing I would do was seek out whatever it was that he made for dessert.
The pie or cake was usually tucked into a corner of the counter. I remember going over there once and not finding any dessert anywhere. I was so disappointed! I seriously thought about going home. After seeing me suffer for a good 5 minutes, he pointed to the top of the refrigerator—there it was.
We all had a good laugh about that one!
His cheesecakes were everyone’s favorite. Always baked to perfection, topped with cherry pie filling; his cheesecakes were truly spectacular. The mini cheesecakes he would always bring to our house for birthdays were especially nice because you could eat more than one without feeling too guilty and still have a few to freeze to enjoy later on.
- It is important to soften the cream cheese for the filling to blend well in the mixer.
- Use a whisk beater if you have one for your mixer— it helps ensure a smooth filling.
1 ½ cups graham cracker crumbs
3 tablespoons sugar
4 ½ tablespoons butter, melted
3 8-ounce packages Philadelphia cream cheese, softened
1 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla
¾ cup sugar
3 eggs, beaten
1 tablespoon lemon zest
1 can cherry pie filling
- Preheat oven to 325°.
- Line two cupcake tins with paper liners.
- Combine the crust ingredients, then press about 1 heaping tablespoon of this mixture into the bottoms of the lined cupcake tins.
- Beat cream cheese, vanilla and sugar with mixer until blended. Add the lemon zest to the heavy cream and eggs and then combine with the cream cheese, vanilla and sugar mixture. Using a ¼ cup ice cream scoop, fill the tins evenly.
- Bake 25-30 minutes until centers are almost set. Cool completely. Refrigerate for 2 hours.
- Serve with a dollop of cherry pie filling.
Yield: 24 mini cheesecakes.
Published: Spring 2019 Vol. 11 No. 1