Remember the Golden Girls? The four fictional widows who shared a home in Miami had very distinctive roles: sweet, not-so-bright Rose; matter-of-fact substitute teacher Dorothy; promiscuous Southern belle Blanche; and Sicilian, salty-tongued Sophia. The actresses who portrayed them showed America that comedy was not the forte for twenty-somethings only, and they won awards for that portrayal.
It seems the famous foursome has had a revival in the past year or two. Younger people have begun watching reruns and falling in love with the ladies, much as their parents or grandparents did when it first appeared on the small screen in the mid-1980s. Of course, this was not a show that was written for children, by any means, as it handled very adult themes as the jokes zinged by. But there was something about those ladies…and there is still, when I see them in reruns now…that makes them feel like family.
Maybe it’s the gray hair and ‘80s clothing that make me think of my Grammy. Perhaps it’s the motherly personality and lighthearted cheerfulness of Rose that remind me of my mother. Or perhaps it’s the fact that a lot of the show’s action takes place around a small kitchen table, as they tell stories, trade jabs, and try to figure out life’s difficulties: finances, children, social security, being widowed, health scares, and the like. I overheard a few similar conversations among my own mother, grandmother and their friends (though, admittedly, none of them were as man-crazy as Ms. Blanche Devereaux). Those were the things that faced people moving into their “golden” years of life, and still do.
As the Golden Girls gathered around that little circular table in that ‘80s-style kitchen, supposedly located in Miami, and as they discussed those serious issues, they also ate. A lot. Mostly, it was cheesecake; they must have gone through hundreds in the taping of that show. Sophia’s Italian cooking came into play fairly frequently, as well, as she prepared meals for the family and any guests who came by to visit. But it was the cheesecake that they really got them through the tough conversations.
Now, when I watch the show, I view it rather wistfully. My mother and grandmother are gone, just as the actresses who played Dorothy, Blanche, and Sopia are. It doesn’t seem as if anyone as full of life as they all were should be gone from this earth; it’s one of those great mysteries, isn’t it? But they do live on in the memories, the laughs and the legacies they each leave behind.
In honor of all the people who share their concerns with their friends, who lean on one another through widowhood, through scary diagnoses, through frustrations with children, through new loves, through job changes or retirement…whatever it may be, I applaud your love and support for one another. I also suggest that we all celebrate with cheesecake, just like those ladies did in their fictional home.
First, I will share a recipe from the old the Beach Baptist Chapel Bread of Life cookbook, which our church put together 21 years ago. It’s the cutest recipe book, and my mom submitted some recipes (including her amazing crab cakes) to it. This recipe, submitted by Christine Dunlap, is simple, and many people use it, as evidenced by all the similar recipes on the internet. Sometimes, simple is best! I like that it makes prep simple by using a prepared graham cracker crust, but feel free to make your own in a springform pan, if you prefer.
8 ounce package light cream cheese, softened
1/3 cup sugar
1 cup sour cream
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
8 ounces of whipped cream or non-dairy whipped topping
1 prepared graham cracker crust
Fresh berries for garnish
Beat the cream cheese until smooth; gradually beat in the sugar.
Add the sour cream and vanilla, and then continue whipping until smooth.
Gently use a spatula to fold in the whipped cream, blending well.
Spoon the filling into the crust, then smooth with the spatula.
Chill at least four hours, so it will set sufficiently.
Serve garnished with fruit, if desired. You can also use chocolate or caramel ice cream syrup, or a spoonful of whipped cream.
The second recipe I’d like to share with you is one of the easiest you can make: Cherry cheesecake in a jar! It’s really cute and portable, too, if you’d like to put it in a cooler and take it to a picnic.
No-Bake Cherry Cheesecake in a Jar
1 can cherry pie filling (about 21 ounces, typically; you may be able to find no-sugar-added pie filling, if desired)
One cup heavy cream
1/4 cup powdered sugar
8 ounce package of cream cheese, softened
1/2 can sweetened condensed milk (7 ounces)
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons lemon juice (preferably fresh)
1 box of shortbread cookies or graham crackers (5 ounces)
2 tablespoons butter, melted
1. Prepare 7 or 8 half-pint Mason jars (or use clear bowls of any kind that you have; I love individual-sized trifle bowls.) Set aside.
2. Whip the heavy cream in a mixing bowl with electric mixer with whisk attachment. As it thickens, start sprinkling in the powdered sugar, little by little, until it is thickened and stiff peaks form. Keep chilled.
3. In another mixing bowl, combine cream cheese, vanilla, lemon juice, and condensed milk. Beat until smooth. Keep chilled.
4. Using a food processor, blender, or by hand (put cookies inside ziploc bag, close, and crush with small mallet...wrap in a clean towel in to help avoid breaking holes in the bag) crush the cookies into crumbs.
5. Place crumbs in bowl, and drizzle with melted butter. Stir to combine well, moistening all crumbs.
Now, the fun part!
Divide the cookie mixture evenly among all jars or bowls. Gently pass down with your fingers, a tamper, or a spoon. Then add cheesecake filling to each jar, then top that with some of the cherry filling. Top each jar with whipped cream.
If you'd like to prepare this in advance, don't add the whipped cream; screw lids on jars and store in the fridge until ready to use.
Other tips: If you don't want to whip your own cream, (but you really should!) use something like ReddiWhip for convenience.
You can use other flavors of pie filling, or if you prefer fresh fruit, slice a pound of strawberries, sprinkle them with 1/2 cup sugar, and stir to combine. Set aside to macerate for an hour, then use in place of pie filling.
If you’d like to try out either of these recipes, I hope you’ll invite some friends over to talk about life, love, loss, or even just the weather, as you cut into some cheesecake and share it together, just like those Golden Girls did. Enjoy!
Stephanie Hill-Frazier is a writer, food blogger and regional television chef, whose on-air nickname is "Mama Steph." She grew up in Gulf County, on St. Joe Beach, a place she will forever call home.
She is married and has three young adult sons who are considerably taller than she is. You can find more of her recipes at whatsouthernfolkseat.com and at Facebook.com/whatsouthernfolkseat.