Comfort Food

Comfort Food


There are lots of popular foods today … that were also very popular during my favorite vintage period of the 1950s and 60s. Cheeseballs are on that list! Even though there are zillions of varieties of flavored cheeses and lots of premade cheeseballs on the market today, my family still really enjoys homemade cheeseballs! There is one recipe from the 1960s that I still make at least once a year … during my Christmas cooking binges. I’ll share that recipe today, but I plan to share another favorite, too.

The creation of cheese dates to the earliest of times. Archaeologists have found remnants of cheese in tombs that are 3200 years old. Cheese is mentioned in Biblical text. 13th century monks in Capua, Italy created mozzarella cheese, originally made with buffalo milk. Soft creamy cheese, sometimes pressed into a mold and sometimes shaped roughly into a ball, is found on Tudor menus. American pioneers made cheese similar to what we know as cottage cheese or ricotta cheese and instructions for ‘dressing’ it details ways to wrap the cheese in herbs so the cheese absorbs those flavors. Thomas Jefferson penned a recipe for making cheese using rennet. Kraft’s patent for Philadelphia Cream Cheese is dated 1801. Over the years, as I’ve researched cheese, the best story I’ve found is about cheese in Andrew Jackson’s White House.

President Andrew Jackson received a 1400-pound block of cheese as a gift from New York dairymen. It measured three feet thick and four feet in diameter. The cheese was kept in the White House cellar for a year to age and ripen. History tells us that some of the employees described it as “an evil-smelling horror”! Nonetheless, the President decided to share it with Washington D.C. businesses and offices declared a holiday and 10,000 cheese-lovers stormed the White House. By the time the last guest had gone, the cheese stand was empty and the cheese had been transferred to the carpets, walls, drapes and furniture. The “evil smell” remained in the East Room for months!

In 1944 Columnist for the Minneapolis Star Virginia Safford profiled women in Minneapolis for her book, Food of My Friends. Safford told food stories by describing each hostess and their signature dish. Mrs. Selmber E. Ellertson inspired the cheese ball entry. Cheeseballs became even more popular as post-war American families began socializing again. There is a recipe for a cheeseball in one of my 1940s cookbooks, but it is a simple combination of Kraft pimento cheese (in the little jar that repurposes as a juice glass) combined with a block of Philadelphia Cream Cheese, rolled in fresh parsley.

The advent of ‘Sociables’, an appetizer cracker produced by Nabisco came about in 1962. Two years later, my all-time favorite ‘Chicken in a Biskit’ crackers came to the party scene! Many other varieties followed and with them came back of the box recipes for CHEESEBALLS! What a great way to sell crackers! Nabisco probably didn’t realize that their marketing ploy would impact the cocktail party foodways of America! I’m glad it did.

One of those recipes is my annual Christmastime favorite and here’s the recipe!

French Onion Cheeseball 

1 8-ounce block of cream cheese
1 stick of butter
8 ounces shredded Muenster cheese
8 ounces shredded cheddar cheese
1 packet of Lipton’s French Onion Soup mix
1 Tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
Chopped pecans or walnuts

How easy is this? Make sure the cream cheese and butter are at room temperature. I recommend grating your own Muenster and cheddar instead of buying bags of shredded cheese. In the old days, we mixed this together with an electric mixer. Today, throw it all in a food processor and you are done in just a couple minutes. If the mixture seems a little too thick, just add a few drops of milk. Form a roll or a ball with the mixture and roll it in chopped nuts. Refrigerate it until you are ready to serve it, but let it set out about an hour to soften before actually serving it.

Years ago, I hosted a dinner party for girlfriends that was themed “American First Ladies” and one of the recipes I used was a cheeseball from Rosalynn Carter’s days in the White House.

When they were first married, (later U.S. President) Jimmy Carter taught Rosalynn some of his favorite recipes. Mrs. Carter became an enthusiastic cook and often times, they prepared meals together. While living in Atlanta in the Governor’s Mansion, Mrs. Carter enrolled in a local cooking school to enhance her culinary skills. She became adept at serving as the State Hostess, which eased the transition into her role as First Lady.

Rosalynn Carter’s Cheese Ring 

1 pound sharp cheddar cheese, finely shredded
1 cup mayonnaise
1 cup chopped pecans
½ cup very finely chopped onion
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Dash of cayenne pepper
One 12-ounce jar strawberry preserves

In a big mixing bowl, combine the cheese, mayonnaise, chopped nuts and onions. Add the peppers and continue to blend. Press the mixture into a 3-cup ring mold. Refrigerate for at least two hours. To serve, unmold the ring and fill the center with the strawberry preserves. Serve with buttery or pretzel crackers.

I’m posting this as a part of my 2020 Vintage Vege project. This is one of the ‘other old stuff’ items! Enjoy!

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