Smearcase: a cheesecake named after 19th-century cottage cheese still served in a few Baltimore bakeries.
A dairy wagon in Virginia City, Nevada, made the news when it tipped over in 1878. The Territorial Enterprise published an article called “Whey Goin?” in which a pun-crazed reporter described in this way the scene: “The air was filled with milk and the wagon was left a complete wreck. It was a regular smear-case. From the length of time he has been in the milk business Pedroli’s horse ought to know butter than to act in such a whey— ’tain’t the cheese.”
Interestingly, all of the dairy products listed in the article are common still today. Except one. Derived from the German schmierkäse (“to smear” and lcheese”), smearcase simply meant “cottage cheese” to a 19th-century American. Milkmen sold it, and families mixed it with cream to create the product that paved the way for modern cream cheese. If in the Pennsylvania Dutch community smearcase is still a term for cottage cheese, in Baltimore it is the name of of a particular cheesecake.
Baltimore has a tradition of straightforward food, especially when it comes to desserts, probably due the combination of an unpretentious working-class life and a history of Eastern European immigrants.
Once home to a large population of German immigrants, Baltimore still features a handful of long-standing grocery stores and bakeries that sell this local speciality, probably an Americanization of some Germanic recipe. The best way to describe it is that it is sort of a flat, not too sweet custardy variation of a rustic cheesecake sold in large, rectangular slabs, always sprinkled with cinnamon.
To make a traditional smearcase, bakers prepare yeasted crust, then add a custardy, cheesy filling. After baking, they finish it off with a sprinkle of cinnamon. Compared to standard American cheesecake, smearcase tastes lighter and less sugary, with a more cake-like crust.
Images from web – Google Research