Shavuot – Let's celebrate all things dairy

By Pauline Colwin

Shavuot commemorates the day the Jewish people received the Torah at Mount Sinai.  Among the traditions, which include an all-night study session and the reading of the Book of Ruth, Jews customarily celebrate by eating dairy foods.

There are several explanations for this. The first is simply related to timing - Shavuot occurs in late spring or early summer, which was when cows would be giving birth and farmers would have a ready supply of milk, hence lots of dairy-based food.

There are also several religious explanations. One is related to the laws of kashrut. Once the Israelites received the Torah and learned about the kosher laws, they could not eat any of their meat, which would not have been butchered properly. So, they simply ate dairy until they were able to prepare meat properly. Another explanation, is that we eat dairy to symbolize how the Israelites were promised a “land of milk and honey.”

To help celebrate, here is my favourite cheesecake recipe.
We Love Cheesecake – Vanilla Cheesecake with Blueberries

My family loves cheesecake, my daughter Leah, especially. This recipe is adapted from Noreen Gilletz’s book The Pleasures of Your Food Processor. The original recipe used a strawberry topping, but we  adapted it to make one with blueberries. My preference is using frozen ones – easy and it turns out really well.


•    1 1/2 cups of graham wafer crumbs
•    6 tbsp soft butter
•    2 tbsp sugar
•    1/2 tsp cinnamon

Cheesecake Filling
•    1 1/2 lbs cream cheese (680g) which is just about 3 boxes of cream cheese.
•    3 eggs
•    1 cup plus 2 tbsp sugar
•    2 tsp vanilla

Blueberry Topping
•    2 cups blueberries
•    ⅓ cup granulated sugar
•    2 teaspoons lemon juice
•    ½ cup and separately another 3 tablespoons water
•    4 teaspoons cornstarch
Preheat the oven to 375F

Grease a 9-inch springform pan with non-stick spray

Prepare the crust
Put the graham wafer crumbs, butter, sugar & cinnamon in your food processor. Mix well until the ingredients are well blended.

Dump crumb mixture into the springform pan, spread the crumbs out evenly and press into the pan. Set the pan aside.

Prepare cheesecake filling
Before using food processor again, be sure to clean bowl and blades or crumbs will ruin your filling!

Place cream cheese, eggs, sugar & vanilla into the food processor. Process until smooth. Stop and scrape down the sides as needed, processing until mixture is smooth.

Pour filling over prepared crust and spread out smoothly.

Bake in the preheated oven for 35 minutes until the edges are brown and the cake is set.

Once the cheesecake is done, simply turn off the oven and crack open the door. Leave the cheesecake inside for about 1 hour. This slow cooling method prevents it from cracking.

Once cool, refrigerate the cheesecake.

Before eating, top with Blueberry Sauce

Instructions for Blueberry Sauce
Place cornstarch in a small bowl and dissolve with 3 tablespoons of water, using a spoon to mix. Set aside.

Place the blueberries, sugar, lemon juice and ½ cup of water into a medium saucepan. Heat over medium heat and stir gently without crushing the blueberries.  (Some will naturally break down.) Let the mixture come to a boil.

Once boiling, lower heat and add cornstarch mixture. Continue to stir for 1-2 more minutes. This sauce will thicken as it cools so you don’t wait for it to completely thicken before removing from heat. If the sauce gets too thick, simply add 1 tablespoon of water and stir at low heat.  If needed, add more water, 1 tablespoon at a time. Taste and add more sugar if needed.

-- Pauline Colwin is the VP Communications for the Jewish Federation of Ottawa.