Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Egg Creams

Neal Hellman sent this article along from the nytimes
There are over 100 comments posted on the site currently. I only included some of them here, with Neal's being the last.
Can the Egg Cream Make a Comeback? By Jennifer 8. Lee
Chocolate Bar on the Lower East Side is reviving the egg cream in new flavors. It has been said, as the Holy Roman Empire was a misnomer in that it was neither holy nor Roman, so does the egg cream have a deceptive name, since the fizzy drink contains neither egg nor cream.
What the classic bubbly New York beverage does contain: milk, seltzer and chocolate syrup. (Though some insist that it is not a classic egg cream without Fox’s U-Bet Chocolate Syrup, there are vanilla and strawberry egg creams, too.)
Despite its vaunted position in New York City culinary lore (it was even enshrined in a Lou Reed song), the egg cream seems to have gone the way of stickball, soda fountains and other elements of lost New York.
(The egg cream has been, in some cases, more tenacious than soda fountains themselves, as in the case of the Mill Luncheonette near Columbia, which was transformed into the Mill Korean Restaurant, yet still maintains egg creams and lime rickeys on their menus.)
Now Alison Nelson, a lifelong New Yorker and the owner of the Chocolate Bar is trying to revive the egg cream with a bit of a twist. With the opening after a relocation to the East Village, she is introducing egg creams in new flavors: hazelnut, cappuccino and another classic New York flavor, black and white (like the classic cookie).
“I was hoping to reinvigorate the egg cream phenom that existed in the early 1900s maybe every diner and soda shop will have it,” Ms. Nelson said. “I wanted to reintroduce the egg cream to a whole generation of people.”
“It’s one of those things that’s really surprising to me that it never really went anywhere outside of New York,” she said. “That is one of the reasons that my grandfather said he never could leave New York, because he couldn’t find a an egg cream.” (A variation, apparently, exists in Tbilisi, Georgia, and efforts have been made to bottle the egg cream.)
“When I first opened my store in the West Village, and I put it on the menu and none of my staff were from New York, so they didn’t know what an egg cream was,” she said. But they would try it and become enamored with the sensation. “It takes a few moments to marry the three tastes: the creaminess and the bubbles and the chocolate.”
Customers unused to the egg cream would pepper the staff with questions. “‘Is it pasteurized eggs?’ We got that one day,” she said. “We were like, ‘There are no eggs, don’t worry.”‘
But were there ever eggs to begin with (or cream)? That is a mystery that clouds the origins of this drink. Accounts date it to either to the 1880s or the 1920s, give a geographic origin to either to the Lower East Side or to Brooklyn, ascribe its name to the existence of real eggs or to a muddle of a foreign language (sometimes Yiddish, sometimes French). No matter which story you hear, way, it seems to have a strong Jewish connection.
As an egg cream history site explains:
One version or legend says that it began in 1880s on the Lower East Side of New York with the teenage Yiddish-theater star Boris Thomashevsky (1868-1939), who brought the first Yiddish play to New York from London and was also a founding member and pioneer of the Yiddish theater in America. After tasting a similar drink, called a drink called chocolat et crème, in Paris, France, he asked to have one made in New York.
Another version says the egg cream was created in 1890 by a candy shop owner named Louis Auster in Brooklyn. Mr. Auster was Jewish, as were most of his customers at the time the egg cream was invented. It is possible the egg in “egg cream” stems from the Yiddish “echt,” which means “real.”
Another version dates the egg cream to the 1920s and Moisha Zambrowsky, the owner of Moisha’s Luncheonette on the Lower East Side. Ms. Zambrowsky claimed origination of an egg cream formula that attracted generations of people to 239 Grand Street before it was replaced by a Chinese restaurant in the early 1990s. (You could get egg drop soup, not egg creams, a customer complained.)
There is another, less cited, origin of the egg cream. In 1970, Daniel Bell wrote a detailed account (he made that “Holy Roman Empire” comparison). He said that the egg cream originated at his Uncle Hymie’s candy store on Second Avenue and Eighth Street in the Lower East Side during the 1920s. The drink had syrup and cream held together by real eggs (as an emulsifier), and seltzer. It was an instant success. From all over the East Side people flocked to drink Uncle Hymie’s egg cream. Others copied him. But during the Great Depression, people tried to find ways to cut costs. They found that they could dispense with the egg and the cream and, by putting in some milk and reversing the spigot of the seltzer machine, concentrate the pressure in a narrow, powerful carbonated stream so as to fizz up the liquid into a frothy mixture that tasted something like the original egg cream.
After tracking down Dr. Bell, a retired professor of sociology at Harvard, at his home in Cambridge, Mass., he recounted that he wrote the piece in New York magazine when he was staying with Irving Kristol one morning and saw something in the paper that triggered him to write about his Uncle Hymie.
“They kept on calling it an egg cream even though there was no egg in it,” Dr. Bell said.
Ms. Nelson takes all the debate in stride. “There is a 40-year difference, 1880s to 1920s.” She also noted that H. Fox claimed its U Bet chocolate syrup was used in egg creams as early as 1904.
It reminded her of the tales from her grandparents. “None of their stories ever fully matched.”
She added, “It’s kind of fun that it’s still a mystery.”

The egg creams in the picture that accompanies the story don’t look too good to me. The syrup should be mixed into the milk before the seltzer is added. Those egg creams don’t look like they’ve been mixed at all.
Posted by Spud Spudly
And what about the egg cream’s distant cousin, “the two-cent plain”? I remember my dad telling me the simple recipe: a soda glass filled with seltzer — an alternative if you didn’t have enough for an egg cream after the stick ball game that day.
Posted by Michael Balton
The best egg creams were made with Auster’s egg cream syrup, not Foxs-u-bet. There were not many places that made them that way. The last places that I know of that made them with Auster’s were the Gem Spa which was either on the corner of the west side of 2nd Avenue and 7th street, or the west side of 2nd Ave and St. Marks Place. There was another “candy store” on B’way and 41 street, but I think that one is long gone…They were good anytime, but especially in the long, hot and humid summers of my childhood. Spud Spudley is correct about the mixing….
Posted by Allan Ehrlich
Spud (#1) is quite correct; an eggcream is properly made by first dissolving the syrup in the milk, and only then adding the seltzer, so that you would never have a stripe of dark brown syrup in the bottom of a full glass. There are other aspects of proper technique. First is the specific motion of the spoon that is used when combining the syrup and milk. It’s a little hard to describe, but the bowl of the spoon should descibe a circle, the axis of which is tilted between the bottom and ther side of the glass. Scientific research indicates that only people born in Brooklyn are capable of this motion. Second, the seltzer must be squirted down the side of the glass, so that it builds a nice creamy head. Finally, the notion that eggcreams ever had eggs in them is simply ridiculous (it probably originated in someplace like Kansas). A similar concoction which does have raw eggs (as well as a bit of brandy) in it is called a guggle-muggle, not an eggcream.
Posted by Robert Rothman
the ‘egg cream’ is alive and spreading..my first experience with the EC was in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, in the 1940’s at the local ‘candy store’ on Brighton Beach Avenue and 12th street. I have been introducing it to upstate NY, and to St John, US Virgin Islands. It’s obvious to me the critical ingredient is the chocolate. There is a important need to develop a chocolate syrup based on the ‘dark’ chocolate that is captivating taste buds in the US.
Posted by lee hersh
One of my favorite memories from childhood is going to the Lower East Side from Brooklyn every Sunday to visit my paternal grandparents. My grandfather would fix me an egg cream at the newsstand/candy store that he ran on Avenue B. (Zayde may have stolen the recipe from Daniel Bell’s Uncle Hymie!) :-) At any rate, when I read about vanilla and strawberry egg creams, all I could think of what Zayde would have said about As a displaced New Yorker, now living about 30 miles West of Philadelphia, I was excited a couple of years ago when a New York-style Jewish-style deli opened in my town, and more excited to find an egg cream on the menu. I ordered a chocolate egg cream, but had to send it back when it arrived. They served it over ice. I had to explain to the waitress that an egg cream doesn’t have ice in it Needless to say, the deli didn’t last. It’s now a steakhouse. I haven’t been back to see if “egg cream on the rocks” is still on the menu.
Posted by Rich
The Chicago version is called a chocolate phosphate, invariably called a chocolate phos by lunch counter servers. Using the old soda fountain dispensers that dispensed soda and syrup separately, you could make a chocolate phosphate by adding the fizzy soda to chocolate syrup.
Posted by Debby
Neptune Diner in Astoria has lovely egg creams, so they aren’t really an “element of lost New York.”
Posted by Kirk
I grew up in Brooklyn’s East Flatbush section so I know from egg creams. Part of the pleasure was watching Kramer, the grumpy candy store owner on Church Avenue and East 49th Stree, who sloshed in varying proportions of syrup (Fox’s U-Bet), whole milk and seltzer from the black-handled spigot. It was dark, sweet and satisfying with about an inch of foam a clear coca-cola glass. The dark marble countertop was always sweaty. Nothing I could make would ever equal that memory.
Posted by Maxine Levy
As so lyrically stated in post #77 by Maxine Levy there was more to an egg cream then the basic ingredients. The August heat of the summer candy store, the chatter of the counter man as he carefully ricocheted the seltzer off the long spoon to blend and sparkle with the awaiting milk and chocolate, the creaky wooden floor underneath one’s spinning stool and the voice of Mel Allen emerging from the static of an AM radio informing all those present that Mantle had just hit an opposite field double to drive Berra in from second base. It all went down so easy……………
Posted by Neal Hellman

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