Nancy Osborn’s Cheese Dreams

Posted on 03 May 2016

I dedicate this post to the memory of Nancy Osborn and everyone who would rather spend their time doing things other than cooking. People, for example, who “baste” a hem, try not to “slice” a golf ball, or, as in Nancy’s case, think of “beat” and “measure” as nouns, not verbs.

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Cheese Dreams from Willy Osborn’s childhood reflect a time when modern marvels of food technology tantalized Americans with new tastes, mouthfeels, and convenience. One slice of nutrient-fortified Wonder Bread topped with one perfectly sized slice of shiny Kraft American turned into a toasted cloud fused with molten gold.

Homemakers could delight their kids with this wholesome open-faced sandwich in the time it took to bubble cheese under a broiler. Before the days of take-out and corner restaurants, dishes like this liberated women from kitchen drudgery so they could pursue their true passions.

One such liberated homemaker was Willy Osborn’s mother. Music was her passion. Born Anne Pell (but everyone knew her as Nancy), she went to Juilliard to become an opera singer and earned her degree in voice. In 1942, she married Frederick Osborn, a businessman who wrote operettas on the side. They orchestrated five children and built their family life on a foundation of music and singing. She passed away in 2012 at the age of 94, to the very end devoted to her family and to opera.

“To Nancy, food was simply fuel,” says Willy. Cheese Dreams helped her get food on the table fast, so the family could get right to the singing. “If we could have gotten our food intravenously, that would have been even better,” Willy adds.

Nancy put the cheese-topped bread on a sheet pan directly under the gas broiler. “A little skin formed on top and the direct flame produced dark spots,” says Willy. “Because she put the bread directly onto the pan, underneath it got soft and a little soggy. It was delicious.”

When Willy first went to France he discovered that a Croque-Monsieur was essentially the same thing. French cheeses and fancy breads don’t have a monopoly on the complex flavor changes that come with browning and toasting. After melting, flowing, and browning, even American cheese develops new flavors and aromas due to caramelization and that trendy Maillard reaction.

A recipephany is a recipe that strikes a chord in our lives. To the Osborn family, a simple Cheese Dream was the prelude to beautiful music.

Nancy Osborn’s Cheese Dreams

Makes 1 Cheese Dream

  • 1 slice of soft white bread, preferably Wonder Bread
  • 1 slice of American cheese, preferably peeled off a block of Kraft yellow slices (not individually wrapped “Singles,” as pointed out by Pell Osborn)

Put cheese on bread. Place onto a sheet pan and put under the broiler. Watch closely as cheese bubbles, and remove when brown dots form. Serve immediately.

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2 responses to Nancy Osborn’s Cheese Dreams

  • Pell Osborn says:

    Hello, Diane. I want to add that the slice of Kraft American Cheese should be the yellow kind, from the pre-sliced block-of-cheese package, not from the “Kraft singles” package. Cheers, and not too many Cheese Dreams to everyone! Thanks! Pell

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