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The real story behind Birchfields cheesecake legacy lady

The supposedly good natured rivalry in Birchfield among the town's best cooks was the biggest scam ever perpetuated within a county noted for sleights of hand. Back in 1747, Joshua Prentiss won a drinking contest and possession of Nathaniel Mapleton's pregnant mare by quaffing more tankards of plain apple juice than Nathaniel did of spirits-charged cider. Mapleton spent the night on the tavern floor while Joshua Prentiss pretended to reel out into the dark and then, straight and tall in the saddle, rode his newly acquired mare to her new home. He bedded down on clean straw in a stall next to the mare's on the chance the tavern wench he had bribed might sell him out, but she did no such thing. Instead, Peggy Wilson walked half the night to the Prentiss farm and scared Joshua half to death when she lay down on the hay beside him.

He made a quick recovery. Peggy never returned to the tavern. They married and their first child was born about the same time the mare foaled. The baby was christened Joshua Prentiss II and the colt was named Rascal, but as it turned out, the names could have been interchangeable.

Throughout the next 172 years, the Prentiss brood prospered whereas Nathaniel Mapleton's lineage had bad luck-until Lettie Mapleton was born. Feisty from the moment she drew breath until she died in 2005, a non-virginal old maid, Lettie was a force of nature. She had no patience for the family's lamentations about their hardscrabble plight.

On scholarships she earned and student loans she borrowed, she achieved an MBA, a doctorate in economics, chucked the corporate world to write one best-selling historical novel after another-"bodice rippers"-all based somewhat on the bad blood between and Prentiss dynasty and the Mapleton family tree. For relaxation, she turned her talent in the kitchen into a thriving business, and the signature delicacy of her wares (other than her own considerable charms) was her acclaimed cheesecake. Known to only Lettie, the recipe lived in her head, not on paper. She prepared a dozen or so cheesecakes once a week when she was alone in her sprawling house. Most were pre-ordered but the rest, pardon the expression, sold like hotcakes.

Some called for fresh berries, others for drizzled chocolate or her own raspberry preserve. Occasionally a customer requested nut pieces-almonds, walnuts, pecans. Those customers whose cheesecake called for whipped cream were handed a separate container filled with crème de la crème whipped just shy of turning into butter.

Lettie's mini farm included a dozen Jersey cows and a flock of laying hens. Nothing but the best. When Lettie died at age 85, passing peacefully while asleep into her next adventure, the good cooks and bakers in Birchfield rejoiced.

Not because they disliked Lettie-everyone either liked her or got a kick out of her; she had no enemies, other than the giant food conglomerates who tried repeatedly to beg, borrow or steal her cheesecake recipe-but with Lettie gone, Birchfield's bakeoffs and harvest fair competitions would not be dominated by Lettie's culinary gifts. But that's not what happened. A young man began living in Lettie's house. Who was he? Her grandson, that's who! And he had the birth certificate, DNA certification, and a notarized statement in Lettie's handwriting, all of which attested to the fact that a love affair between Lettie Mapleton and Nate Prentiss had produced a child who then parented Nathaniel Prentiss, III. Yes, that Nathaniel Prentiss, the owner of the two most exciting fine dining experiences-one in L.

A., the other in New York City. And he was determined to give full rein to the genes he had inherited.

The Birchfield women organized: all cooking and baking competitions would be limited to females only. Nathaniel Prentiss III laughed. He had no intention of entering. His plan was to foster the talent already displayed by his young daughter.

Peggy Mapleton Prentiss had inherited her great-grandmother's ability to create a new cheesecake recipe that blew away all competition. The good ladies of Birchfield sighed and bowed to the inevitable.

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: http://www.cheesecakestogo.biz


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