Cherry Cheesecake Cookies
When people think of the smells that remind them of summer, fresh cherry pie, the beach, or charcoal grills often come to mind. But for me, blue Dawn dish soap reminds me of summer. Yes, I am a bizarre girl.
You see, my parents used to own a small family resort. It was an American Plan resort, which is a family destination whose price included two meals a day. Our resort had a lodge with several guest rooms and 13 cottages. Families would stay for 1-2 weeks during the summer, often returning each year for generations. Each Sunday night, we would host a beach party for the guests. My dad grilled burgers, brats and hot dogs; my mom and a few staff members served up baked beans, cole slaw and potato salad. 60-70 guests would sit at rustic picnic tables and beach chairs along the shoreline enjoying the sunset and eating dinner.
Wyn Meredith (or Mrs. Meredith, from my childhood point of view), a guest whose family had been returning to the Resort for generations, created a tradition for the three weeks she stayed at the Resort each summer. After most of the kids had gobbled up their dinner and finished off their cartons of chocolate milk, Mrs. Meredith would slowly sneak her way down the shoreline and out onto the dock. In her hands, she carried a PVC tube with some sort of nylon strap attached, a large bucket, and some Dawn dish soap. To outsiders, perhaps it appeared as though she was going to clean the dock, or maybe catch some fish and then wash her hands. But to the veteran kids such as me, we knew just what she was up to. We hurried to join her on the dock.
Mrs. Meredith filled the large bucket with water and measured in some soap. The scent of clean, fresh summer wafted into my nose. Once the mixture was just right, she doused the nylon strap that was attached to the PVC tube into the mixture. She drew it out, and the strap formed a huge circle attached to the tube, longer than Mrs. Meredith’s arm, that had a thin film of soapy water suspended within. Slowly, she walked along the length of the end of the dock holding the tube and strap away from her body. Simultaneously, she shifted the looped strap along the PVC tube so that the circle the strap made got smaller and smaller. And slowly, the thin, soapy film bent and bent until it formed a giant sphere. Some might call it a bubble. And, just like magic, Mrs. Meredith released the giant, soapy bubble. It floated out across the surface of the lake, colors shimmering on its curved surface; pastel shades of pink, green and blue. As the giant sphere floated further away, another joined the dance. More soapy scent filled the air. I would breathe in deeply and watch as the bubbles filled the air around us and eventually descend upon the water.
The children encircling Mrs. Meredith would jump up and down, some jumping in the water if they were swimsuit-ready, trying to pop the large orbs. Some of the luckier bubbles floated out to deeper water, some came to rest for an instant on the lake’s surface before popping suddenly. Mrs. Meredith would choose one lucky child, one of the older, taller ones, and they would try their hand at the bubble-making. I remember when I first got to try my hand at the job. One thing is for sure, Mrs. Meredith was the bubble-making master. Nobody could make giant bubbles like her.
Last night, back in my own kitchen, almost (gasp!) 20 years later, I stood scrubbing down the dishes from the Cherry Cheesecake Cookies I made. Surprisingly, it wasn’t the red, white and blue motif I was going for with the cookies that reminded me of summer and the 4th of July. It was the scent of the dishsoap. As I scrubbed, the summer beach parties, the Resort, and Mrs. Meredith floated through my mind like large, translucent bubbles.
Happy Fourth of July and Happy Summer!
Cherry Cheesecake Cookies (Cook’s Country, December/January 2010)
3.5 c all-purpose flour
2 t baking powder
1 t salt
2 (8-oz) packages cream cheese, softened
20 T (2.5 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1.5 c sugar
2 large eggs
2 t vanilla extract
1 c graham cracker crumbs (8 whole graham crackers)
3 (20-oz) cans cherry pie filling, drained (or make your own, which is what I wish I would have done!)
1) MAKE DOUGH Combine flour, baking powder, and salt in a bowl. With electric mixer on medium-high speed, beat cream cheese, butter, and sugar until smooth and creamy, about 2 minutes. Add eggs and vanilla and mix until incorporated. Reduce speed to low, add flour mixture, and mix until just combined. Refrigerate dough until firm, at least 30 minutes. (I made the dough in the morning before work, then finished the cookies in the evening)
2) HEAT OVEN Adjust oven racks to upper-middle and lower-middle positions and heat oven to 350 degrees. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Place graham cracker crumbs in shallow dish.
3) ASSEMBLE COOKIES Roll dough into 1.5 in. balls, then roll in crumbs. Place balls 2 inches apart on prepared baking sheets. Using a tablespoon measure, make indentation in center of each ball. Place 3 cherries in each dimple. Bake until golden around edges, 12 to 14 minutes, switching and rotating sheets halfway through baking. Cool 5 minutes on sheets, then transfer to wire rack to cool completely. (Cookies can be stored in airtight container for 2 days.)