Cheesecake in the Strange house was made with Milnot®. “What?” you say. Where was the New York style, the white, chocolate cheesecake, the Amaretto cheesecake topped with almonds? Where was the calorie-laden cheesecake of today’s obese America? The answer quite simply is-that variety of cheesecake was absent, unknown, never heard of before in the Strange family. All we knew growing up was that cheesecake was made with Milnot® and lemon Jell-O®. Didn’t everyone eat that brand of cheesecake?
Mother’s cheesecake was simple and allowed our less than agile hands to occasionally help her whip up the cool, delicious dessert. For those of you who are not aficionados of canned milk, Milnot® was a brand name for a canned evaporated milk product. It was very inexpensive and was a constant staple in our kitchen.
Of course, Mother also used the proverbial Philadelphia Cream Cheese for our simple cheesecake. Once the cream cheese softened at room temperature, she folded the whipped evaporated milk into the prepared Jell-O ® and stirred all the ingredients into a buttery, yellow liquid. While she whipped and stirred, Sissy and I crushed the graham crackers with a rolling pin and added melted butter to the crumbs. We took turns gingerly patting the crumbled crust into the bottom and sides of the rectangular pan as the crumbs started to congeal with the hardening of the melted butter. Mother then poured the liquid mixture into the pan and we sprinkled the remaining crumbs over the top of the blended ingredients. It would take several hours for the mixture to set in the refrigerator, and we eagerly awaited Mother’s announcement that cheesecake was ready. Sometimes before dinner, Mother allowed us to take a spoon and take one bite out of the corner of the pan to satisfy our cravings. At dinner, no one mentioned that one of the corners of the pan was missing its filling.
When it was time for dessert, Mother cut the final product into squares, which jiggled slightly as she placed the dessert on the plate, and it was passed to our waiting hands and watering mouths. The deliciousness of that cool, light sweetness. Ah, the memory is so sublime!
As an adult, I was eventually introduced to the classic rich taste of the New York style cheesecake, but I still occasionally ventured into the past and made Mother’s version. Many years ago, I prepared this cheesecake for dinner guests and when served, I was quite impolitely informed by one of my guests that the dessert was not real cheesecake, to which I responded “Really?” I was not only surprised at the arrogance of my guest, but I thought to myself that Mother’s version of cheesecake was certainly real to the Strange kids. We loved our Milnot® cheesecake and often begged for more than one helping, not realizing that it wasn’t real by other people’s standards.
Recently, I whipped up three packages of cream cheese to make a real (very calorie-laden) cheesecake remembering the light, lemon-chiffon taste of Mother’s recipe. I didn’t imagine that Milnot® was still available in the grocery stores of today, so I executed an online search to discover whether Milnot® had met its demise or was still in existence.
Surprisingly, I found that Milnot® was in fact “alive and well”, albeit the company is now owned by Smuckers, and still available for purchase at grocery stores or through Smucker’s Website at https://onlinestore.smucker.com/. In addition, through www.cooks.com, the recipe has been preserved in perpetuity.
Once I knew of its continued existence, I decided to go in search of this treasure at my local Kroger and celebrate the simplicity of that favorite childhood dessert. As I set out on my quest, with spirits high, my mouth watered and I thought about Mother standing in the kitchen, carefully explaining the less than complicated steps to creating our perhaps not-so-real cheesecake, and I was thankful. In that moment, I was thankful for her love and for the fact that she gave me the opportunity to revisit my childhood with smile on my face, a yearning in my stomach and a place in my heart to keep the memory alive. This Jell-O-Milnot version of cheesecake may not have been real to my long ago guest, but it was very real to me. Hey Sissy-the next time we are together, do you want to go get some Milnot®? I have a yearning to crush some graham crackers and whip up a cheesecake.
Milnot® Cheesecake (www.cooks.com)
1 (3 oz.) pkg. lemon Jello®
1 c. boiling water
1 (8 oz.) pkg. cream cheese
1 tsp. vanilla
1 (13 oz.) can of Milnot®
3 c. graham cracker crumbs
1/2 c. butter, melted
Dissolve gelatin in boiling water. Chill until slightly thickened. Cream together cheese, sugar and vanilla; add gelatin and blend well. Fold in stiffly whipped Milnot®.
Mix graham cracker crumbs and melted butter. Pack 2/3 of mixture on bottom and sides of 9 x 13 x 2 inch pan or larger. Add filling and sprinkle with remaining crumbs. Chill overnight. Can top with fruit.