William and Alice Hammerstein had two sons, Oscar and Reginald “Reggie”. The brothers were very close. Born in 1895 and 96 respectively, they grew up in Manhattan where their father, Willy, and grandfather, Oscar I, were famous theatrical impresarios. Highland Farm became their homestead when Oscar and Dorothy moved there in 1940. Reggie, who lived nearby, passed on in August of 1958 at the age of 61 preceding Oscar by 2 years.
Upon hearing of my affinity with Oscar Hammerstein, my dear friend, Mary Lindsay told me about Hexie Hammerstein, Oscar’s sister-in-law. Having lived in Doylestown during Oscar’s tenure, Mary knew of Hexie and her scrumptous cheesecake recipe. This top secret recipe had been bestowed to Peg, Mary’s close friend, with the stipulation that it not be shared with anyone.
However, unrelenting Mary Lindsay was determined to have that recipe. Finally, Peg said, “Look, I have to go to the bathroom,” and with a wink she added, ” I keep the recipe in the cupboard.” Taking her cue, Mary copied the recipe in April of 1968. She related the story in 2010 when giving me the recipe. I then presented it to Andy and Will Hammerstein in Feb. 2011 at our Highland Farm Valentine sing-along. In April of 2011, Will served it to his Aunt Alice, Oscar’s daughter, and me when lunching with Alice at her home in Harrison, NY. The cheesecake was rich and delicious. Will did a good job, and I was in seventh heaven for 4 hours that day.
I thought that was the end of the story until I met Reggie’s step-son, economist/author John Steele Gordon, online two days ago. I had read the charming article below and emailed him requesting permission to publish the cheesecake recipe in our Led By A Rainbow book. Here is the link: http://www.commentarymagazine.com/article/my-uncle-oscar-hammerstein/
We had a lovely exchange about Oscar, John’s childhood adventures at “the farm,” and the cheesecake recipe. He hadn’t known about it and was delighted to have the recipe because he bakes a cheesecake every Easter. “What perfect timing,” I thought, “the recipe is returning to the rightful kitchen.” Wrong. After some confusion, we solved the mystery. Hexie whose real name was Mary Manners was Reggie’s first wife. John’s mother, Mary Steele Hammerstein, was Reggie’s second wife. No wonder he didn’t remember his mother’s cheesecake recipe. Oh well. At least, we had a good laugh.
Since the focus of this post is on food, I included a paragraph from John’s magazine article about his “Uncle Oc.”
“He also wrote often about food (“This Was a Real Nice Clambake” and “Schnitzels with noodles / And crisp apple strudels” were among his favorite things). Oscar loved to eat and took food very seriously. It was a running family joke, invariably alluded to at holiday dinners, that Oscar, who weighed about 220 in his prime (he was almost 6’2″ in height), had been turned down by the Army in World War I because he had then been underweight. In 1954, he and I, as well as my mother and Dorothy, ate our first pizzas together at an Italian restaurant in Trenton, New Jersey, not far from Doylestown. He emphatically approved.”
And now you can approve or disapprove of Hexie’s cheescake recipe. I’ll have more to share about Hexie next month. In the meanwhile, bon appetit.
Lorna Doone Cheese Cake
30 Lorna Doone cookies and ¼ cup butter. Press into 9” spring pan and up the sides. Put into freezer while mixing filling.
- 3 ½ pkgs cream cheese
- Small container sour cream; beat the two
- Beat 4 eggs and mix with the cream cheese and sour cream.
- Gradually add 1 cup sugar.
- ½ pint heavy cream – whip and blend above.
Bake 350 degrees for 1 – 1½ hours. Shut off the oven and leave it in there until the oven is cool. Take it out of the oven and put it in the refrigerator.
John Steele Gordon, who writes regularly for COMMENTARY, is the author of several works of American economic history, among them Hamilton’s Blessing and An Empire of Wealth.