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Egg Creams and Other Brooklyn Eating Traditions

Last night a friend posted on Facebook and a flurry of childhood memories floating into my brain.  She wrote about her craving for an Egg Cream.  The memory of the delicious drink brought a smile to my face and brought back memories of other things, that seem a million miles away.

First off, let me explain something about an Egg Cream.  There is no egg and no ice cream.  It is a Brooklyn invention and there are very strict rules for a traditional egg cream.  First, one part whole milk into a glass.  Secondly, you add two parts seltzer.  Not the bottled stuff, it must be put in via a bar gun or a spray bottle with CO2. Quickly stir to create a froth.  Add the chocolate syrup. For traditional, it must be U-bet, none of that Hershey's shit.  About two tablespoons worth.   Quickly stir to create a brown bottom, a tan middle and a creamy white top.  Drink quickly, as the froth will settle and your moustache will not be proper.  Classic.

I remember the small garden outside our brownstone.  Every year, if only for a week, tulips would grow. Grown men would sneak in, pick one or two and rush home to their girlfriends with their token of affection.  Mom would yell, but was she really mad, it wasn't that kind of time?  An apricot grew in our front yard too.  Yielding, to this day, the best apricots I've had to date.  We'd often trade a few of our bounty with my best friend's family, in exchange for the luscious figs that grew in his backyard.  Two things I don't know if Ive eaten fresh as an adult.

Thoughts go to our milk deliveries.  These weren't necessary in the 70's and 80's, but my parents kept the tradition. Each week two containers of milk in a glass bottle was delivered and every few weeks, the delicious U-Bet Chocolate Syrup would come.  The basis for the aforementioned egg creams.  Every other week our soda supply would come, a half case of ginger ale, a case of siphon topped seltzer bottles and a six pack of Manhattan Special coffee soda.  To this day, my favorite soda ever made.


I remember going to the Italian bakery, Cammareri's (yes, the one from Moonstruck) on a weekend morning, waiting in line and the two old ladies handing me something to gnosh on while my mother order her delicious semolina bread.  The semolina bread was the canvas for the masterpiece that was my standard elementary school lunch.  While others had cold cuts or PB&J's sans crusts, I was different.  Mine, was a huge slice of semolina, cut in half, mayo liberally spread on each side.  Then topped with a few slices of provolone, then topped liberally with thick tomatoes, often coming from our backyard garden. Simple, but perfect. 

I remember going with my mother and brother to Sahadi's.  A middle eastern olive food haven for Brooklynites to this day.  Creamy hummus and baba ganoush filled to the brim and fresh pitas, filled my mother's order.  The greatest coffees I've ever had lined the walls. Then of course, there was my brother, who would maneuver his way through the crowded store and stop in front of their many vats of olives.  This was a different time and paranoia was not not rampant.  The little blond haired, blue eyes boy would dig his hand into the large bins and pull out and olive.  Eat it, maybe spitting the pit into his hand.  Then off to another one. This would repeat itself for a few minutes and he'd discard the pits into my mother's hand.  The owners, more than happy to hand her a napkin and then discard of them.  As time went on, his appearance at the door, would cause a commotion as all the workers would yell "watch out everyone, the Olive Boy is here."  He became as much a staple of the store as they did of the borough. http://sahadis.com/

Saturday afternoons were an event.  Everyone got their allowance that day and trips to the corner store for penny candy (2 cents actually) were a tradition. My first allowance was only 50 cents, so I usually bought about ten pieces of candy, this 10 cent juice that came in a plastic bottle and I put the other 20 cents away for another time. Amazing how back then I was able to save up for the things I wanted.  As I got older it became sodas.  Our other corner deli would occasionally have homemade white chocolate lollipops colored blue and made out of smurf molds.  For a quarter, we could enjoy the owner's wife's delicious creations.

I remember the street fairs, where at a young age, I was enjoying bacalaito, fried chicken or some other ethnic cuisine from our diverse block.  I remember the Raymond's, a lovely Spanish couple, digging in their backyard every July 3rd.  The pit would be set and they would start their fourth of July pig roast.  I don't remember ever having the courage to eat the full animal back then, but I wish I had.  The smells emanating from their yard were amazing.  I remember the commotion of the following evening, where salsa music and laughter could be heard all through the night.  

The next morning, I would get up from my bed.  Groggily look to my right, gaze at the Williamsburg clock tower.  .  I would look down to my left, the remnants of an amazing evening littering the yard.  I knew my birthday was in 24 hours and hoped my party would be as fun as the sounds I head the evening before.  My eyes, would glance upwards, scanning the trees that lined so many backyards, the birds chirping and the hot summer sun shining in my face.  My eyes would reach the top of the trees and off in the distance I would see the peaks of the Twin Towers.  

Many years later, the towers are gone.  So many of the people who made my childhood what it was are too.  Some of the places I went to have changed owners or are no longer there.  Some have simply changed.  A piece of candy is no longer 2 cents and there are no apricots hanging from the tree.  Cammareri's was sold, but a bakery still stands.  I'm sure the two old ladies have long since passed, but there memory was captured on film.  Bars protect the windows of my old home and those that surround it.  The park on the corner isn't what it once was.  The store owners probably don't know every one's name and where they're from. I doubt there are street fairs, with kids playing in the hydrant, breaking only to grab a delicious snack, they would never have in their own home.  Everything is different now and can never be restored to the way it was.  That is life.  But it's nice to know, that something as simple as reading two words can evoke memories of a time of happiness and peace that, in many ways, I'll never see again. All I can do is stir, remember and drink it up.

Comments

  1. Great post. It's amazing how some foods help us remember. Look back on that time fondly if you can - a lot of peoples' childhood memories lack that kind of sweet richness and detail.

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