“Christmas won’t be the same this year.” Alyssa hung another ornament on the family Christmas tree and sighed.
“It won’t be the same for anyone, dearest daughter,” Julia admitted, as she placed another snow globe on the mantel.
“That doesn’t make it any better.” David frowned and shook his head, continuing to lay track for the Christmas Special, the electric train the Anderson family ran around their tree every year. “I agree with you, sis. It just won’t be the same.”
“Hey, now. Remember Thanksgiving? We all gave thanks for our health, our food security, and our home. And the ability to use technology to share the holiday with family, even though we couldn’t gather together live.” Harrison was more than the father in this household - he was the “silver lining” kind of guy.
“I wasn’t talking about the pandemic, dad. Or at least not just the fact we’re dealing with a pandemic. It won’t be the same without Grandpa, since he passed away with COVID-19 complications.. Even though he couldn’t have been here in person if he were still alive, I was looking forward to sharing Christmas with him.”
“That’s right,” David agreed. “It won’t be the same without Grandpa. Or his Famous Cheese Pie.”
“You’re right, kids,” Julia chimed in. “But he’ll be here in spirit. And we wouldn’t have his pie anyway, even if he hadn’t passed on.”
“I’ll miss him, too,” Harrison agreed. “But we don’t have to miss his Famous Cheese Pie. I’ll make it. After all, it’s been a secret family recipe for generations.”
“And he passed that recipe on to you. It’ll be like having a tiny piece of him here.” Julia stepped over and gave David a warm hug.
“Well, he didn’t actually pass on the recipe,” David admitted, hugging Julia back. “But I’ve seen him make it so many times I feel like I can duplicate it.”
“I watched him, too,” Alyssa smiled “I even helped him once, even though the recipe and the tradition are passed down from father to son.”
“I never helped, but I watched hi make his pie. I bet we can do it together. Let’s do it right now.” David stood, wanting a break from laying track anyway.
“Now? In the middle of decorating?”
“Sure, mom. The sooner we start, the more time we have to try again, if our first attempt doesn’t work.”
‘We don’t have to stop decorating,” Harrison pointed out. “You guys keep decorating. I’ll make sure we have all the ingredients. And I remember one of his secrets - bringing the cold ingredients to room temperature before he started. I’ll be back in a jiffy.” He left the family room, heading upstairs to the kitchen.
“You heard your father. Keep decorating.” Julia lifted another snow globe from the box, removed the protective bubble wrap, and placed it on the mantel. Alyssa looked for a good spot to place her next ornament on the tree. David sighed, but got back down on his knees to continue laying track for the train.
“Let me see,” Harrison mumbled in the kitchen. “Graham crackers, sugar, cinnamon, and vanilla. Hmmm . . . no vanilla. I bet a little taste of maple flavor would work.” He placed all the ingredients from the pantry on the counter. Then he added two mixing bowls, one for the filling and one for the topping. A pie plate, a rolling pin, and some wax paper. Then he moved to the refrigerator.
“Cream cheese, sour cream, butter, and eggs. Or was it a single egg? I can’t remember if it was one egg, or two. Guess I’ll go with two.”
He unwrapped the cream cheese to help it come to room temperature. The eggs he cracked into a bowl, stirring them together gently with a fork, so they could warm up. He left the sour cream for now, and the butter. He could nuke the butter when ready, and the sour cream was for the topping. Then he headed back downstairs to the family room.
“So did you find everything you need, dad?” David asked. “Am I going to learn how to make Grandpa’s Famous Cheese Pie this year?”
“Why is it called cheese pie anyway?” Alyssa wondered. “I always thought it was just another type of cheesecake.”
“Good question, dearest daughter,” Harrison complimented her. “The truth is, cheesecake isn’t really a cake, technically. It doesn’t use flour or baking powder, two key ingredients to make a cake earn the designation. So even though Grandpa’s Famous Cheese Pie is very much like a cheesecake, that only strengthens its being called a pie.”
“Why is it famous, then?
“I don’t think it’s really all that famous,” Harrison admitted. “But you know how much we all loved it. And every time Grandpa took it to a church social, a potluck, or offered it up for a progressive dinner as dessert, it was a big hit. And I think he started with a recipe called a Famous Cheese Pie, then modified it.”
“All done,” David announced. “Stand back and be prepared to be amazed.” The rest of the family stood back, making sure their feet weren’t blocking David’s track.
“All aboard!” he called out. Then he turned the transformer on. The small electric train started moving, spewing out tiny amounts of fake smoke from its smokestack.
“I love the bridge!”
“That’s called a trestle, sis.”
“I love the figure eight track.”
“I love that I didn’t have to get on my knees to lay the track this year. And that you did such a wonderful job, son.”
“And I’m finished here. Tada!” Alyssa stood back and pointed to the Christmas tree.
“It looks nice, sis.”
“It’s beautiful, Alyssa,” Harrison added.
“I think it looks even better than last year.”
“That’s the last snow globe.” Julia stepped to the side of the fireplace and spread her arms to draw attention to the mantel.
“I just love the snow globe mantel, mom.” Alyssa beamed.
“You did a fantastic job, as always, darling.” Harrison tried to smile even more than his daughter.
“Looks the same as last year to me, mom.”
“That’s called tradition, son,” Julia pointed out. “Speaking of tradition, how’s the Famous Cheese Pie coming?”
Harrison checked his watch. “I think we’re ready for the next step. The crust.” Harrison led the way into the kitchen, the rest of the family following.
“I think you should preheat the oven,” Julia suggested, stepping over to the oven. “Is it 325 degrees?”
“That’s right, darling,” Harrison nodded. “How could I have forgotten that?”
“Can I make the crust, dad? If I’m going to carry on the secret recipe and the tradition, I need to start doing more.”
“Do you know how to make the crust, David?”
“I use the rolling pin to turn the Graham crackers into crumbs. Add some melted butter and mix it all up. Spread it into the pie pan and bake for 5 minutes.”
‘That’s right, son. And the temperature for the crust is 450. Nuke the butter, half a cup, to mix in with the crackers.”
While the crust was baking, Harrison started on the filling. He broke the 8 oz. package of cream cheese into small chunks and put the chunks into the larger mixing bowl. Then he turned the mixer on medium and started mixing, slowly adding the sugar.
“It’s surprising, but adding the sugar slowly makes a difference. And you want to be careful to avoid whipping the cream cheese, so keep the mixer on medium or low.” Once the sugar was added he measured out 5 more tablespoons for the topping. Then he added the eggs all at once, blended them in.
“Maple? Didn’t Grandpa use Vanilla?” asked David, picking up the bottle of maple extract.
“He did, David. But we don’t have any vanilla, and I thought it might be tasty with Maple, instead.”
“How much, dad?” David opened the small bottle while asking.
“I’m thinking an eighth of a teaspoon,” Harrison mused. David added the extract and blended it in. Harrison pulled the crust out of the oven. David added the filling, then they put the pie back into the oven, at 325, for 20-22 minutes.
“While that’s baking, make the topping, son.”
“OK, dad.” David dumped two cups of sour cream into the small mixing bowl. He added the 5 tablespoons of sugar, an eighth of a teaspoon of cinnamon, and a couple of drops of maple extract. Then he started to remove the beaters for cleaning.
“No, David, don’t clean them. Leaving some of the filling on and blending it into the topping is another part of the secret family recipe. It ties the flavors of filling and topping together.”
It didn’t take long to finish mixing the topping. While they waited for the pie to bake, Harrison and David cleaned up.
“I love them baking the Famous Cheese Pie, instead of asking us to do it,” Alyssa smiled at her mother.
“Even better - they’re doing the cleanup.” Alyssa gave her daughter a high five. The family decided to play a game of Fluxx or two while waiting. When the pie was done, David set it on a cooling frame to cool for half an hour. Then it went into the refrigerator to chill for at least an hour and a half.
After dinner, they brewed coffee and sampled the Famous Cheese Pie.
“It doesn't taste like Grandpa’s,” Alyssa offered, “but it’s good.”
“It’s better than Grandpa’s,” David said.
“You’re just saying that because you baked it.” Alyssa punched her brother’s shoulder.
“No, he isn’t,” Julia chimed in. “It does taste better. I think it’s because of the vanilla.”
“Here’s to Grandpa, and to his Famous Cheese pie.” Harrison offered a toast.
“And to your Famous Cheese Pie,” Julia raised her glass of egg nog.
“And to traditions,” David added.
“To the family,” was Alyssa’s contribution.