A Historic Peek at the Other Cheesecake

There are two kinds of cheesecake. One stimulates the taste buds. The other arouses the imagination.

Both are a feast for the eyes, yet it's not difficult to determine which came first. A Greek writer is often credited with recording the first basic recipe for cheesecake in about A.D.

230, while there is evidence that cave dwellers who appeared long before recipes were invented may have outdone even the trail blazing Julia Childs. We know that the art of storytelling began with the cave dwellers. We know this because we know what happens even today when people sit around a campfire: they start telling stories. They munch on pork rinds or popcorn and they share adventures-real and imagined-and eventually break out the graham crackers, marshmallows, and chocolate, create colossal s'mores, and everybody taps into the delusion that they are kids again at sleepover camp.

Yup, our ancestors scratched picture stories on the cave walls. They gathered around the fire. They chewed on roasted legs of beasts. They concocted libations of mind-altering capability. They took another swallow and threw another log on the fire.

Their world may have lacked the ingredients for s'mores, but we know they were not deprived of their just desserts because of the evidence they left behind: pictographs of lions, tigers, bears and-oh my-there's something else carved into those ancient walls. With as much delicacy as a stone can render, there are supple curves and suggestive poses of-yup-girls. In many of the pictographs, the Misses Nurturer & Gatherer recline demurely among the furs of animals as firelight flickers on one bared shoulder, a bended knee, a sensuously arched foot.

Subtle, alluring, provocative, and definitely sensuous precursors to the 20th century Vargas period, the home walls of ancient caves reveal the origin of (drum roll, please) the original cheesecake. Passed along from millennium to millennium, each successive generation has embraced this enticing recipe for appreciating pulchritudinous cheesecake. The ancient Egyptians were certainly not priggish, and who can overlook the shocking temptation of a French postcard? During World War II, cheesecake was more American than apple pie: artist Alberto Vargas' gorgeous, leggy Varga Girls adorned aircraft, ships, and even uniform jackets of U.S.A. servicemen.

From the Ziegfield Follies to Playboy Magazine, the "Varga" and "Vargas" girls are among the most recognizable cultural icons of the 20th century. And, there are others. Who can forget the first animated cheesecake? Betty Boop, a salacious cartoon vixen with bedroom eyes, too-kissable lips, a baby-doll voice and more curves than a meringue topping first debuted early in the 1930s, made the movie scene in the 80s and 90s, and still shows leg today. Apparently, the more men and women change, the more they remain the same. In other words, oh ye who delight in the epicurean pleasure and sensuous taste of the culinary triumph of an extraordinary cheesecake-the other meaning of the double entendre name for this delectable dessert is also a real dish.

Mark Woeppel has been writing and eating desserts longer than most. In his day, he often dated Scarlet O'Cheesecake, who was a bit of a dish herself. Now she beguiles with her tales, both bland (well, not really) and spicy (verily). More of her stories and of course, delicious cheesecake can be found at:


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