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Mom’s cheesecake was her pride and our joy

Cheesecake topped with homemade strawberry sauce is perfect for Mother's Day. Tribune News Service

My mom wasn’t a particularly touchy-feely person but I never doubted how much she loved me and my six siblings.

One way she showed it was through her desserts. While Ruth Trent hated to cook on a daily basis, she loved to bake. So holidays at the house when I was growing up were always flush with her famed chocolate chip cookies, cut-outs and other sweet treats.

One recipe everyone adored was her cheesecake. Smooth and creamy, with a crunchy-sweet graham cracker crust, it was everything a classic cheesecake should be: velvety on the tongue, luscious to lick the stray bits off your fingers and outright decadent given the calories. My mother always served it with strawberry sauce. Even as adults, we fought over the leftovers. (It makes a great breakfast.)

Unlike my mom, I love to cook but am not so keen on baking. All that exact measuring! Which is why I’m glad her cheesecake recipe, scribbled on an index card sometime in the late 1970s or early ‘80s, is such a treasure. Geared to the sometimes baker, its crust and filling are incredibly easy to make without any fancy ingredients — just mix, pour and bake.

It's not an original: My older sister got it from “Betty,” the owner of a long-forgotten steakhouse near Penn State where she worked as a waitress during college. Because it was a top-seller, Betty made my sister promise to never share the recipe with anyone. But it was so good, of course it made its way to my mother, who in turn refused for years to give it to me because she didn’t want it to end up in the paper. (She knew me well!)

Maternal memories are often sparked by the thought of something delicious your mom made when you were a kid, so chances are you’re nostalgic for a certain dish of your own. To celebrate our mothers, I’m sharing her cheesecake recipe with you.

In honor of my mom’s legendary sweet tooth — spice drops and peanut brittle were favorites — I’m including a recipe for homemade strawberry sauce, too. Try to use local berries, if you can find them, because they’re sweeter. I got mine at a farm stand in Virginia.

Mom’s Cheesecake with Strawberry Sauce

For crust:

12 graham crackers

5 tablespoons melted butter

1/4 cup sugar

Pinch of salt

For filling:

3 1/2 packages (28 ounces) cream cheese, room temperature

1 cup sugar

3 cups sour cream

2 teaspoons vanilla

Dash of salt

3 eggs, beaten

For strawberry sauce

1 pound hulled and quartered strawberries, plus a handful of halved strawberries for garnish

1 cup granulated sugar

Pinch of salt

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice, or more, to taste

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Prepare crust: Pulse graham crackers in a food processor several times until you have large crumbs. Add butter, sugar and salt and pulse again until well combined. The mixture will be thick, sandy and coarse.

Pour mixture into a buttered springform pan. Using your fingers, press it across the bottom and up the sides with medium-firm pressure (you don't want any loose crumbs).

Bake until crust is fragrant and edges are golden, 12-14 minutes. Let cool on a wire rack while you prepare filling.

In bowl of stand mixer outfitted with a whisk, mix cream cheese, sugar and sour cream at medium-low speed until smooth. Add vanilla, a pinch of salt and eggs; mix some more at medium-low speed until smooth. To avoid beating too much air into the batter, use a mixer set at low-medium speed. To avoid lumps, make sure the cream cheese is softened at room temperature.

Pour filling mixture into the prepared crust (it should come almost to the rim). Place cheesecake on a cookie sheet and bake for 45 minutes, then turn off heat and leave in oven for an additional 15 minutes with door closed.

Allow cheesecake to cool completely before covering and placing in fridge to chill overnight before serving.

Prepare strawberry sauce: Place strawberries, sugar, salt and lemon juice in a small sauce pan and stir to combine. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring almost constantly, and cook at a low boil gently, using a potato masher or dough cutter to break up the fruit every so often. Stir frequently, until mixture thickens. The sauce should cling to a spoon. Let cool before using.

When ready to serve, loosen and remove sides of springform pan from cheesecake. Arrange halved strawberries on top and spoon strawberry sauce over berries, allowing some to drip down the sides of the cheesecake. Serve immediately.

Serves 8-10.

Cheesecake topped with homemade strawberry sauce is perfect for Mother’s Day. Tribune News Service

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