Category Archives: Seltzer Means Refreshment

Curating the Great Egg Cream Debate, at the Forward

This week I wrote a piece for the Forward’s blog about the debate over the best way to make an egg cream. I interviewed a few egg cream “experts” then opened it up to their readers. It was a lot of fun to put together, and even more fun to watch the debate unfold.
The Great Egg Cream Debate
By Barry Joseph
There’s something about an egg cream that can bring out the debate in some people. “There is egg cream on your face,” wrote one reader, “if you fall for those explanations of the egg cream.” Another simply wrote “Hogwash!” Luckily these were letters not to us but the New York Times, throughout the 1970s, in response to articles making one claim or another about the correct way to mix the drink. No egg cream article comes without a slew of detractors. Luckily our readers were more polite in response to Leah Koenig’s recent article, “Egg Creams Make a Comeback”, but were no less contentious. When Koenig described the delicious drink re-imagined to include maple, coffee, and even olive oil, some readers cried foul.
Arguments over the correct way to make an egg cream are nothing new. Disagreements can arise about the ingredients (most traditionalists say nothing will do but Fox’s U-bet chocolate syrup, milk and seltzer), the order they’re placed in the glass, or the proper length of the mixing spoon. As a publication of record, the Forward might not be able to settle this historic debate, but we can at least contribute to the latest round. We want to hear from your thoughts on the new breed of egg creams, from the return to classic to the provocative nouveau. To get it started, we asked a range of experts for their take on the topic, inquiring, “What do you think of non-traditional egg creams?” Check out their positions below and add your own.

Daniel Humm is the executive chef of the rarefied Eleven Madison Park, which now serves every table an egg cream composed of vanilla-malt syrup, organic milk, olive oil, sea salt and seltzer.
New York is a constantly evolving city, and with that, its cuisine evolves as well. I certainly love the traditional egg cream – it is almost an art form – but what I love more is that this city allows us to re-create our own versions of the original. And that’s what cooking is all about—finding inspiration from somewhere and then using your creativity to make it your own. I know that it is hard to accept change, but in a city of constant forward movement, we must embrace it!
Josh Konecky is the owner of New York City’s Eisenberg’s Sandwich Shop which opened in 1929.
Would I drink one? No. Our restaurant is not going to branch out into anything other than chocolate, vanilla, and coffee (when I can find it). Eisenberg’s is a very traditional place so I stick with the traditional way to make an egg cream.
Jeremiah Moss writes the blog Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York a.k.a. “The Book of Lamentations: A Bitterly Nostalgic Look at a City in the Process of Going Extinct.”
This trend of dressing up the egg cream and slapping a big price tag on it is part of a larger trend in which foodies take the ordinary food of ordinary New Yorkers, like hot dogs and pizza, and upscale them for a more affluent and “discerning” clientele. It’s not unlike the movement of the wealthy into poor and working class neighborhoods. The new egg cream becomes “artisanal” and “exclusive,” just like the new real estate across the Lower East Side. So you could call this the gentrification of the egg cream. It’s a hostile takeover. Leave the egg cream alone — it’s perfect just the way it is.
Amelia “Madame Bubbles” Nahman runs her “Egg Cream Cart” in San Francisco’s municipal parks, in front of bakeries, and at Bar and Bat Mitzvahs.
I think non-traditional egg creams are great. I’m a traditionalist with a broad world-view. I make vegan egg creams with dark chocolate syrup, and I try to use biodegradable cups and paper straws because my audience demands it. I have seen egg creams in bottles, and can’t bring myself to drink one. The food universe is an evolving place, and our tastes fall in and out of fashion.

Flow Chart: The Logic of the Soda Fountain

Lofty Persuits, a florida-based soda fountain, has an amazing menu, offering as much food to buy as history that satisfies. You can view all of it here. Even more remarkable is page 5, what the New York Times has described as “an extraordinary taxonomy of fountain drinks, color-coded according to ingredients and techniques.” Check out how many different paths there are to an egg cream!
(click for the full image)
LoftyPersuits - The Logic of the Soda Fountain.jpg

NYTImes Article: Turning to Jerks to Restore Allure of Soda Fountains

There is an excellent article in this week’s New York Times, Turning to Jerks to Restore Allure of Soda Fountains,describing a potential trend in the return of the soda fountain.

Unlike most similar articles, rather than bemoan the end of the past, or offer a nostalgic look back, it takes on a tone similar to my book, looking both to the present and the future. Case in point:

Mr. Freeman is determined to avoid running a retro or theme restaurant selling nostalgia without content. “When the older people come in here and start talking about the sodas they used to get, I almost want to say, ‘I don’t care about your memories,’ ” he said. “Don’t screw this up for these kids by putting it in the past. This is happening now.”

What do you think?
The article also offers a fascinating new look at the Egg Cream, from one of NYC’s top restaurants:

In New York, a top-notch egg cream is required for anyone revisiting the fountain tradition, including the Swiss-born chef Daniel Humm. At Eleven Madison Park, one of the more rarefied dining rooms in Manhattan, Mr. Humm has engineered an egg cream course, served to every table between dinner and dessert. It is mixed tableside from vanilla-malt syrup, organic milk from the Catskills, a drizzle of olive oil, a sprinkle of sea salt and New York seltzer squirted from old glass siphons. (This being a New York Times four-star restaurant, the sticky, scratched siphons — delivered weekly by one of the two remaining services in the city — are cleaned and polished before being allowed in the dining room.) “The foam on an egg cream should only last for about 30 seconds,” Mr. Humm said. “It’s like a little instant pleasure.”

Egg Cream as palette cleanser?
Here are some beautiful photos of the presentation from someone‘s blog:

Excerpt from my Egg Cream Chapter published today on the Forward

I am excited that part of my Egg Cream chapter has been published online in the Forward’s Blog, the Jew and the Carrot.

In the laboratoryApril 7, 2011, 11:29am
Making Egg Creams for 111 Years, Even on Passover
By Barry Joseph
David Fox has a problem with his rabbi. I sit across from David, at his office desk, in the family factory H. Fox and Company, deep in Brooklyn. David’s family founded the company and for the past century it has manufactured a wide variety of flavored syrups. Today, however, I am only interested in one, Fox’s U-Bet chocolate syrup, which is widely regarded as the essential ingredient for the classic egg cream, once described by Mel Brooks as “the opposite of circumcision” as it “pleasurably reaffirms your Jewishness.”
It is only Hanukkah, but the time has come once again, as it has for more than a hundred years, to ready his plant to produce the Passover batch. Fox’s U-Bet is used all around the world, and year-long; Passover is no exception.
Kashering the syrup for Passover is no small task. First the ingredients need to change. Only real sugar will do for replacing the corn syrup, producing something a bit sweeter while maintaining the smooth, round taste that distinguishes the syrup from other brands. But sugar is expensive. “Yet we don’t charge more.” Why not? “We are the only chocolate syrup that I know of that’s kosher for Passover,” he explains. “We just don’t think it’s the right thing to do.”
Next, the vessels need to be kashered, the whole processing line from beginning to end. Everything is sanitized, sterilized, and boiled up. It takes an entire day to prepare, a lost day of production. The 36,000 square foot factory, once up and running, will produce 2,000 crates on a good day, each containing a dozen bottles.
And of course, you need a rabbi to oversee it all. Fox’s rabbi has been with the company for 45 years. “He’s not in the OU,” David explains, referring to the Orthodox Union, one of the largest and oldest kosher certifying agencies in the country. “But he is extraordinarily versed.” Fox’s rabbi, however, is not the problem. It’s everyone else, he says. It’s a society whose values are different from the world in which U-Bet was first born.
H. Fox and Company was founded in 1900, by David’s grandfather, cooking syrup over an open flame in his tenement house in Brownsville. But he was more than a syrup entrepreneur. He was also a gambler. One day he traveled to Texas with an eye on an oil well investment. The well was dry. While he failed to pick up a fortune, he picked up the phrase: you bet it’s good! Originally the label read ‘Fox’s U-Bet It’s Good.’ Over the years it became simply Fox’s U-Bet. The syrup has been touted by Jerry Lewis, Rob Reiner, and even Mel Brooks in the pages of Playboy, amongst others. The rest is history.
David is approaching his 69th birthday, running one of the two or three syrup companies left in the New York metropolitan region. His son, Kelly, has since joined the business. But when David first worked professionally within the company, there were three to four dozen competitors down the block, it was a different time, when the rabbi’s word was all that was needed to assure consumers a product was kosher. Now when some people hear that Fox’s U-Bet’s rabbi is not with the OU, preventing the syrup from carrying the more stringent OU heksher, or kosher mark, they inevitably ask David why they don’t change their certification. “Because we’ve been working with a man who has been with us almost 50 years,” he tells them. “He’s grown with us. He’s part of our family. I don’t think it’s the way we should run our lives.”
David’s pride in his product is about more than quality and values. With egg creams, he tells me, “I don’t think it’s only a taste sensation.” It is something more, much more. “I think the concept of going in and ordering an egg cream brings back a lot of memories. It puts them back into a different time.” For David, that is a time when nothing was better than an afternoon spent with a Spalding and a broom, playing stick ball. “It may only be for seconds, but they lose themselves.” With every bottle of syrup purchased and egg cream mixed, a company is supported that embodies a way of being in the world held over from an earlier era, maintaining a family-run business which proudly stands against the tide of history, refusing to fire it’s rabbi. “At the end of the day,” David tell me, “when you die, all you’re left with is your name, your name and what it represents.”

If you enjoyed this piece and want to know more, please feel free to go back into the archives of Give Me Seltzer to watch Kelly Fox’s Favorite Childhood Memory of Growing-up in a Chocolate Syrup Family and Kelly answer the question Who is the girl on the Fox’s U-bet Chocolate Syrup Bottle?. You can also see photos on Facebook from my two trips to the factory here and here.

Seltzer-informed Cupcake Wins Contest

This fluffy, comedy-inspired cupcake helped Cupcake Wars winner Doron Petersan advance past round one. I found this on VegNews.

Makes 12 cupcakes
What You Need:
1 cup sugar
1 cup flour
1/3 cup cocoa
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup seltzer
1/4 cup coffee, brewed strong and cooled
1/3 cup oil
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon vinegar
Chocolate Ganache (see recipe)
Banana Frosting (see recipe)
Carmelized Bananas (see recipe)
What You Do:
1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line a standard cupcake pan with 12 cupcake liners. In a medium-size bowl, sift sugar, flour, cocoa, baking soda, and salt. Set bowl aside.
2. In a small bowl, whisk together seltzer, coffee, oil, vanilla, and vinegar. Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients and whisk until incorporated. Do not over mix batter.
3. Fill cupcake liners ¾ full and bake for 19 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into each cupcake comes out clean. Cool completely.
4. Dip the tops of each cupcake into ganache so entire cupcake top is covered. Set aside for 10 minutes to allow ganache to set. Pipe a dollop of banana frosting on top of each cupcake and garnish top with two slices of caramelized bananas.

Meet Madame Bubbles!

This “effervescent Jew” is delighted to introduce you to Madame Bubbles!
From May 6th, 2010, in, “Takin’ it to the streets: Jewish vendors add deli favorites to S.F. mobile food scene“:

San Francisco’s Madame Bubbles was on her way to teach Hebrew school a few weeks ago when a small crowd of curious bystanders gathered around her.
jcover05-07-10Riding her 1950s-style adult tricycle, Madame Bubbles, aka Amelia Nahman, had a large basketful of chocolate syrup, milk and seltzer — for making egg creams, the classic East Coast deli beverage.
Nahman typically serves her nine-ounce egg creams at bar or bat mitzvahs, in municipal parks or on the sidewalk in front of bakeries. But on that particular day she was shlepping her ingredients to Congregation Sha’ar Zahav to whip up some samples for her students.
It seems that the inquisitive passersby had a different idea.
In fact, she ended up selling so many egg creams — made with homemade seltzer and served in compostable potato-starch cups — that she didn’t have enough left for her students. But don’t feel too bad for the kids; they’ll get to taste a real New York egg cream soon enough, at a Sha’ar Zahav picnic in Dolores Park on Saturday, May 8. Nahman has been invited to pedal over and serve up her treats.
Nahman’s egg cream business, named simply “Egg Cream Cart,” is part of an ever-expanding group of specialty food-cart vendors popping up across the nation, primarily in San Francisco, Portland, Los Angeles and New York. Call it a movement if you will, and it’s growing at a “gastronomical” rate thanks to a perfect storm of social networking and an active foodie community…

Feedback from a relative of a subject from my book

A few weeks back I found online the great-grandchild, not a grown adult, of a figure I’ve spent many years researching and many months writing about. She very generously offered to read the draft of that section, and here’s what she had to say:

Barry… thank you for sending me the 3rd and 4th section of the chapter on the history of seltzer as a business, which covers the life and times of my great-grandfather, William B. Keller. I just finished reading it.
Wow. I bet no one else will tell you this when they read your book: it made me cry. 🙂 There are… so many familiar threads of personality that I see in him, this man of whom you wrote, that I see in my dad and even in myself. Uncanny. And so lovely. It’s great, Barry. Really, really great. You tell a good story with all the facts mixed in… I like the way you write.
Please keep me posted! Can’t wait to read more…