Monday, January 3, 2011

Seltzer And Egg Creams: Still Going Strong (Well, Maybe Just Hanging On) in Brooklyn

Barry Joseph has spent the last five years researching the history of seltzer.  Yes, seltzer, that divine concoction which is the basis of the egg cream, the legendary foamy milk and chocolate drink that used to be available all over New York City, and especially in Brooklyn.

We're not talking about the seltzer that you can get in plastic bottles in any supermarket. We're talking about the real McCoy -- seltzer under extremely high pressure that only comes in thick glass reusable syphon bottles that are delivered by the case from old beat-up trucks by ancient delivery men.

The bottles aren't being made any more, and if you're lucky, you can buy one for a pretty high price on eBay.  But you can't refill it without the special equipment that the old seltzer bottlers used.

But there are encouraging signs that seltzer is fighting its way back to life.

Barry is working on a book, "Gimme Seltzer", and has created a Facebook page about it.  

The company that makes Fox's U-bet chocolate syrup, one of the three ingredients in an egg cream, has a web page devoted to this drink, with the official recipe.

And Seth Front has published "An Egg Cream Manifesto" on his blog, in which he implores deli owners to return this classic drink to its original royal status on their menus, complete with showmanship in creating it and delivering it tableside.

Barry has made a video of his encounter with Eli Miller, one of the last surviving seltzer men, and we're sharing it with you here.  As Barry writes in his notes accompanying the video,
Seltzer delivery is a dying art. Once, hundreds of "seltzer men," as they liked to be called, drove the city and walked the streets of New York, carting cases of pressured siphons through rain and snow. Now, less than a dozen remain and, like Jedis with their arcane knowledge and mystical allusions to better days since passed, they move amongst us, largely invisible to the untrained eye.
Eli Miller is 78 years old, easily the oldest of the remaining seltzer men. In research for my upcoming book on seltzer, "Give Me Seltzer", I contacted Eli for an interview. To my delight, he invited me to follow him along his route, if I could keep up. What follows is a brief collection of images and sounds from that day.

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