When I interviewed Kenny Gomberg many years ago, proprietor of Gomberg’s Seltzer Works, he told me about a former employee, George Williams, who retired in the 1970s. An African-American who moved as a boy from North Carolina, he worked in a number of seltzer works around NYC for over two decades. I was very interested in his story – both as an individual and to the extent it shed light on the African-American labor that worked behind the scenes to keep the city in seltzer.
After a number of years, I finally got to sit down with Mr. Williams this week, now 86 years old (it’s been a busy week for me and seltzer!). It was fascinating to hear the tale of how he entered the business (while competing on the boxing circuit), learned Yiddish from his new boss, and spent five years fighting to get into the Hebrew Soda Workers Union.
This past week I was in Pittsburgh and meet in person, for the first, John Seekings, proprietor of the Pittsburgh Seltzer Works, whom I have been interviewing for over 4 years and whose business is the centerpiece of my book. It was thrilling to meet him for the first time and to walk the floors of the Works. John was as generous as ever – with his time and stories – and helped me to understand the Works in a new way, up-close and personal.
I took a video that I will prepare and share at a later date but, in advance, here are some photos. (View all the photos here)
I’m going to be in Pittsburgh in two weeks for a work related conference. A few months ago, I reached out to the Center for Postnatural History, as I was excited to visit them. After some back and forth, we decided I would do a reading from the book, and called it “The Science of Seltzer”. You can read more about it here.
This will be my first time doing a reading now that I have an agent for the book and the first time I will be doing a reading in the city that plays such a central role within the narrative. I’m super-excited.
And since it’s a science-related talk at a (post)natural history museum, I made a fun promotional photo wearing my work shirt:
There’s a great new article in the Wall Street Journal on seltzer, “Buy Into These Bubbles: Seltzer’s Fizz Is Back.” Below is the excerpt that quotes me:
Barry Joseph, an associate director at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, began researching seltzer more than a decade ago after writing a review of a SodaStream machine for a Jewish news site. In response, he heard from dozens of people who wanted to share memories—of seltzer delivery men injured by exploding bottles and childhood egg creams, the combination of milk, chocolate syrup and seltzer that tastes like fizzy chocolate milk.
Mr. Joseph has written a book-length history of the beverage and is working to get it published. He says soda water was invented by Joseph Priestley,an 18th century theologian and chemist credited with discovering oxygen, who found a way to infuse water with fixed air. Several years later, Johann Jacob Schweppe, for whom the Schweppes brand is named, founded the technique to mass-produce fizzy water. The rise in inventive and homemade cocktails has helped draw more people to seltzer, Mr. Joseph says.
To read the whole article, check out this pdf a good fan sent me, or go right to their web site.
After more than a decade of the old blog design, it was more than time for an upgrade. I still have a lot to tweak, but please comment below and let me know what you think so far and what you’d like to see me add.
I have great news to share! I just posted the following on our Facebook group:
I found an agent! Actually, she found me. Here’s how it happened. And how I couldn’t have done it without you.
I would never say writing is easy. But it’s rewarding, pumping me with hits of natural opiates that keep me chugging along. And I’m in control, deciding what I want to write about, and when. So last summer, when I finished the draft manuscript, I was simultaneously excited by the accomplishment and dreading the next step: figuring out how to get it published.
I spent months working on a proposal, which I have since written and rewritten numerous times. I might as well have been pitching my book blind-folded on a stage, plugs in my ear, with little idea about how it was being received. I’ve never done this before. I had no idea what I was doing. And like sensory deprivation, the vacuum can be oppressive.
But you helped me. Posting about the process here on Facebook gave me the support I needed to keep going. Last December I gave myself six months to find an agent or self-publish (not that the latter would be easier, but at least I’d be in control).
Month after month, as rejections came in, I posted tidbits now and again. Your very interest encouraged me to keep sending out the proposal, to keep clarifying and improving it. It led me to take shots in the dark, like paying to post an ad on Publisher’s Marketplace. I had no idea of it was all just a scam, but I gave it a shot. So on Feb 11, 2015, I posted the following:
Then something new happened. An agent contacted me, not the other way around. She read the ad and was curious. I sent her the proposal and, last month, invited me to talk on the phone. You might recall it; it was the last thing I posted about agents here. And after that I stopped, as it looked like it might be working. And it was one of her first pieces of advise: don’t build expectations until you know you can deliver.
And now a signed agent/author agreement has been passed back and forth via the US Postal Service. It’s official. I now have an agent. And as she emailed recently “Now that you can post!” [note: I actually don’t recall what she said, but it was something like that, but why ruin the flow of a good story. Now, where was I?]
We still have a ways to go. A new proposal will need to be written. And Anne will have to sell it (that’s her name – please say Hi to Anne!). And so much more. But I think it’s okay for me to start building your expectations once again.
A book is coming.
It’s about seltzer.
And my thanks to you will be how much you will love it.
I received this wonderful email from Yam, in Israel, last week, who gave me permission to share with all of you:
I live on a kibbutz founded in 1973, moved here in 1981. Visitors still ask, “Where’s the soda water?” [in the dining hall]. Apparently, kibbutzim and soda water was a “thing”, so much so that the dispenser in the dining hall is the only thing many folks recall from their visit to a kibbutz.
We never had it here at Ketura, as far as I can recall, so it must’ve been a “thing” only until circa 1970s.
I just started drinking seltzer this year, having never been interested before, and love it. I had digestive issues that it helped and now I’m hooked. My husband and I go through a liter a day.
I found your site after wondering about the connection between New York Jews and seltzer. I grew up in the Midwest, where we bought 24-packs of store brand (Cragmont) soft drinks in various flavors and stored them in the garage. I’d assumed that seltzer’s popularity waned when people (Jews?) moved to the suburbs, bought cars, and did their shopping at supermarkets. My dad, who grew up on the Lower East Side, still likes his Dr. Brown’s. After searching, we found unflavored club soda at a supermarket (Walmart?) for 63 cents a bottle. Can’t beat that price!
Today my family took my sister for her birthday to Hamilton’s Soda Fountain & Luncheonette, in Greenwich Village. The food is fantastic and cheap – old style luncheonette food at old fashioned prices (a hot dog for $2) – but the star is by far the soda fountain. Alex, the soda jerk, was generous enough to explain his awesome concoctions (based on old recipe guides) that he’s been perfecting for more than a year before they opened.
The video below shows his egg cream. I’ve never seen it made this way before – U-bet’s chocolate syrup last! – but I’ve had worse.
I was SO excited to have my first phosphate. I’ve read all about them but had no way to really understand what they were all about. The base here was cherry and root beer (their cherry syrup is incredible – now my favorite Lime Rickey). The phosphate cuts the sweetness and makes the taste more crisp. It was interesting but not sure it’s my new thing. Check out how it’s made:
My sister ordered this Strawberry Puff (flavored soda with whipped cream). Their seltzer, I have to say, is fantastic!
This Kight’s Egg Phosphate is not just a regular phosphate (which smooths the sweet and heightens the crisp) but also includes a raw egg. I have been equally excited, since writing my book, to try both a phosphate and a raw egg at the same time – and now I got to try both at the same time. I can say now I’ve done it – I can see why people who were low on cash and lower on protein might have favored this – but next time I am at Hamilton’s (and I plan to go back in a few weeks) I will definitely turned to my new favorite – the Lime Rickey.
It is fascinating to visit here after a trip to the Brooklyn Farmacy and Soda Foudnation. While everything at Farmacy is phenomenal – and serves my favorite egg creams – I think they seek to evolve the recipes while Hamilton’s aims to bring back or preserve the old recipes. That’s interesting. And even more interesting is to see over time if the city’s new-found interest in soda foundations is big enough to support both directions.