Let’s go for cheesecake to Ancient Kydonia!

Yes, that’s right, probably in Ancient Kydonia our Ancient Greek ancestors used to eat cheesecakes! In this sweet article you will find out why and how, as we will research the history of cheesecake, and also the history of quince. We will do so, because we intend to combine them in a Greek cheesecake with cinnamon biscuits, anthotyro cheese mousse and homemade quince jam flavored with rose geranium. Our digital friend Μs. Magda Daskalaki (@magda_daskalaki), psychologist and collaborator of well-known TV shows, told us the idea for this recipe and we sincerely thank her very much!

Our Greek cheesecake will have a taste of quince and an aroma of rose geranium

Cheesecake isn’t just the American dessert we love, but it firstly appeared in Samos Island, Greece in 2000 BC, as anthropologists conclude based on cheese molds findings. We learned that ancient cheesecake was made with flour, wheat, cheese and honey and served as a wedding cake. Athenaeus of Naucratis, in his work The Deipnosophists mentions that in Sparta, cheesecake could be found in women’s banquets and that the bride’s friends would carry the sweet and sing in her honour. And do you know what else could be found at an Ancient Greek wedding? Quince! We read that, according to Plutarch’s Lives, the custom was for the bride and the groom to chew a piece of quince, as it was believed to help with fertility.

Ancient Greek wedding: the bride’s friends preparing her for the ceremony (source)

Cheesecake was possibly offered to athletes participating in the first Olympic Games in 776 BC to give them energy. The first written recipe is traced much later, in the first Greek cookbook, The Deipnosophists by Athenaeus of Naucratis (170-230 AD). It is a gastronomy manual with cooking directions, descriptions of symposium rituals and many encyclopedic information on the life, habits, customs, art and science of Ancient Greeks. Today, only 15 books of the Synopsis are salvaged from its 30 volumes.

We searched in the digitised English version of the work and found many types of Greek cheesecakes that Athenaeus wrote down, along with the writers that mentioned them: gouros (mentioned by Solon), krivanis (mentioned by Apollodorus the Athenean), crimnites (mentioned by Iatrocles in his treatise on cheesecakes), staitites, a cheesecake made with honey (mentioned by Epicharmus), epidetron, a barley cheesecake served after dinner (mentioned by Philemon in his treatise on Attic names) and much more.

The Deipnosophists by Athenaeus of Naucratis (source) and the writer’s bust (source)

[…] Take some cheese and pound it, then put it into a brazen sieve and strain it; then put in honey and a hemina of flour made from spring wheat, and beat the whole together into one mass […]

Recipe of Chryssipus, as mentioned in The Deipnosophists by Athenaeus of Naucratis

In Sicely they preferred the amorvites, while the Romans the placenta. Roman politician Marcus Porcius Cato (the Elder) who lived in the 2nd century BC, in his treatise on agriculture De Agricultura describes the recipe for another type of cheesecakes, libum.

Break up two pounds of cheese well in a mortar. When they will have been well broken up, put in a pound of wheat flour or, if you wish it to be more delicate, half a pound of fine flour and mix it well together with the cheese. Add one egg and mix together well. Then make into bread, places leaves beneath, and cook slowly on a hot hearth under an earthen pot.

Marcus Porcius Cato, De Agricultura, 160 BC (source)

Well, did our Ancient Greek ancestors indeed enjoy cheesecakes with quince? It’s very possible, especially in Ancient Kydonia in Crete, where the fruit had arrived from Persia. Quinces were the “golden apples” of that era. They are found in mythology, in the eleventh adventure of Hercules whose goal was to obtain the golden apples of Hesperides. Quince also played its role in the Trojan War, as Paris offered it to goddess Aphrodite as an exchange for Helen of Troy.

The golden apples of the Hesperides (source)

Ancient Kydonia, as we read at the website of the Archaeological Museum of Chania, used to stand where contemporary Chania city now is, in north-west Crete. Kydonia means quinces in Greek, and this is why we travelled there. Since prehistoric times, on the Kastelli hill was built a settlement that evolved into the archaic, classic, hellenistic and roman city. We also found that king Minos (the first king of Crete) had separated the island into three departments, Knossos, Faistos and Kydonia. The first two are quite famous, but we didn’t know that Kydonia was of equal importance…

Ancient Kydonia, Crete, Protominoan settlement of Kastelli (source)

Archaeological excavations revealed streets, private houses, baths, industrial units for producing Tyrian purple (porphura in Greek, a reddish-purple natural dye) and impressive mosaic floors showing their owners’ prosperity. We know that -as in all ancient cities- the house of the family (oikia in Greek) was the center of everyday life for the citizens of Kydonia. Archaeologists have found many gastronomy findings, kitchenware, such as kettles and stoves, cups and glasses, plates, jugs, and wine, oil or water storage vessels. Maybe in some of them they would bake a cheesecake too…

Kydonia was also another word for the Greek name Aivali, a city erected in the 16th century on Asia Minor’s coastline. We learned that the name Aivali originates from the Turkish word ayva which means quince, and that the higher classes would use the name Kydonia while the lower would call the city Aivali. There are many theories about the origin of the name… some say that in the city grew many quince trees, others claim that the place was inhabited by people from the Cretan Kydonia, while others believe that the settlers came from a place with many quince trees.

In search for the history of the quince we found another interesting information: the Portuguese call the quince marmelo and quince jam marmelada, which relates to English marmelade (marmelada in Greek), a synonym to jam. So, we came to the conclusion that the first marmelade was made with quince!

Still life with dish of quince, painting by the Spanish painter Francisco de Zurbarán, 1663-64 (source)

Speaking of marmelade, the cheesecake we will make comes to our minds! And because it won’t resemble the ancient sweets we discussed above that much, we have to see how it reached its current form… First of all, according to What’s cooking America, in the 10th century Roman conquerors spread cheesecake to Great Britain and Western Europe.

A recipe for cheesecake is traced in 1545, in the cookbook A Proper Newe Booke of Cokerye, a Bretish recipe book for housewives, written by an unknown writer (a mini mystery like the ones we like). It is one of the first books in English addressed to women and even beginners, with more detailed descriptions than medieval books, with ingredient quantities and baking times.

To make a tarte of Chese  – Take harde Chese and cutte it in slyces,and pare it, than laye it in fayre water, or in swete mylke, the space of three houres, then take it up and breake it in a morter tyll it be small, than drawe it up thorowe a strainer with the yolkes of syxe egges, and season it wyth suger and swete butter, and so bake it.

  A Proper Newe Booke of Cokerye, 1545
New York Cheesecake

At the other side of the ocean, 20th century was the era of the New York Cheesecake. In 1929 in his Turf Restaurant in Broadway, Arnold Reuben claims to have made the first New York Cheesecake with cream cheese, instead of cottage cheese which was the usual. Cream cheese was invented in 1872 in the USA, when dairymen tried to evolve the French Neufchatel cheese, the one that Napoleon loved very much. In New York, when William Lawrence tried to make Neufchatel cheese richer and creamier, he accidentally discovered cream cheese. In 1912 Kraft company found a way to pasteurize cream cheese, and Philadelphia cream cheese was launched in the American market.

New York Cheesecake

We also read that in the USA there are five types of cheesecakes. All of them, in the cream layer contain three ingredients -cream cheese, eggs and yolks.

  1. New York Cheesecake: The cheese mixture contains also heavy cream or sour cream. It is denser, creamier and softer. It is baked in a sprinform pan for a uniform result, at first at high temperature and then at lower to attain the golden crust on top.
  2. Chicago Style Cheesecake: It contains more cream cheese in the three-ingredient mixture. It is baked in a greased form so that it gains a hard outside and a soft and creamy inside.
  3. Pennsylvania Dutch Style Cheesecake: It is prepared with a denser cheese than cream cheese. It has a more sour taste and a creamier texture. It is baked in a rectangular pan, with fruit on its base (not on top like the others).
  4. Roman Style Cheesecake: It is mostly found in Italian bakeries. It is made with mascarpone or ricotta cheese and its texture is a little drier than the others.
  5. Country Style Cheesecake: It looks like a New York Cheesecake, only the three ingredients are mixed with buttermilk. This gives it a steadier form and a more acidic taste.

But except for the American cheesecakes that are baked in the oven, no-bake cheesecakes also exist. Those we usually prefer in Greece, with a base of crumbled biscuits, cream cheese and a jam topping. So, we chose to make a Greek cheesecake with a base of cinnamon biscuits, a mousse with anthotyro cheese (a Greek cheese resembling the Italian ricotta) and a homemade jam, in which we brought quince and rose geranium together to honour this forgotten fruit.

Our own Greek cheesecake

Greek cheesecake with cinnamon biscuits, anthotyro mousse and homemade quince and rose geranium jam

Our recipe

Ingredients for the biscuit base

Cinnamon biscuits250 gr
Butter200 gr

Making the biscuit base

Blend the biscuits into a powder. Meanwhile, melt the butter in a small saucepan. Pour the butter over the biscuits and lay the mixture in a springform pan, pressing with a spatula to make a solid base. Place it in the refrigeraton until it gets firm.

Ingredients for the anthotyro mousse

Anthotyro (room temp.) or ricotta cheese200 gr
Water60 ml
Gelatine (powder)5 gr
Sugar140 gr
Heavy cream200 ml

Making the anthotyro mousse

Τhe ingredients for the anthotyro mousse

First of all place the gelatine powder in a small bowl with a small amount of water (1tbs) covering it. Whip the heavy cream to soft peaks and put aside, at room temperature (not in the refrigerator).

Make a pâte à bombe (a mixture like a meringue but made with yolks, used eg. as a base for a mousse): Place the yolks and water in a large metal bowl (not a plastic one as it will be used in a bain marie-hot water bath) and beat with a hand whisk. Add the sugar. Prepare the bain marie: pour one centimeter of water in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Place the bowl with the yolk mixture on top. Beat constantly with the hand whisk until the mixture reaches a temperature of 75°C. If you don’t have a food thermometer try to figure it out visually; we aim for the mixture to become a foam (see photos below). It will take 4-5 minutes on high heat to reach 75°C.

Take the bowl off the heat and add the softened gelatine. Blend the anthotyro cheese in a food processor until it gains a creamy consistency. Then, add it to the yolk mixture and stir well with the hand whisk until fully combined. Add the whipped cream and fold gently with a spatula, being careful not to lose the mixture’s volume. Pour immediately over the biscuit base and place in the refrigerator for a couple of hours to firm up.

Ingredients for the homemade quince and rose geranium jam

Water500 ml
Sugar200 gr
Rose geranium3-4 leaves
Cinnamon1 stick

Making the homemade quince and rose geranium jam

Quince and rose geranium, they are made for each other!

Peel the quinces and take out the cores. Don’t throw them though, place them in a cheesecloth to boil with the fruit, as they contain pectin that will thicken the jam. Finely slice the quinces and place them in a saucepan with the water and the cheesecloth to boil for 15 minutes. Stay close and stir every now and then, so that it doesn’t burn on the bottom. After 15 minutes, take it off the heat and mash the fruit with a hand blender (or with a fork). Return back on the stove and add the sugar, rose geranium leaves and cinnamon stick. Boil for 15 minutes until the fruit purée gains the texture of a jam and a reddish colour. Leave aside to cool.

When the anthotyro mousse seems firm enough, add the jam on top and your cheesecake will be ready! Greek, yummy and fragrant, with an autumn fruit that it is a shame to forget… Enjoy everyone!

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