Some months ago, while in the clutches of an interminable Maine winter, I received a brief but, to me, astonishing correspondence from my friend Joe in the Hudson River Valley.
"Seltzer is in the building," the note began and, in Joe's way, abruptly ended.
My friend did not always live along the river. Like me, he is from Brooklyn, where families once routinely had seltzer delivered to their homes but no longer. Joe, I knew from prior discussions, had heard rumors of a seltzer man who still delivered nearby. Now I knew that he had found him.
"No way," I texted back furiously.
"Way," Joe typed. "I'm not on the guy's route so gotta do 4 cases minimum. That's 40 bottles at $3 a pop. Fine by me."
Before I could answer, Joe was back.
"Get this. He refills his bottles at Gomberg Seltzer Works in Canarsie, the last place in the metro area that does the job."
If not for the grim climatological conditions, I would have been out of the house and off to my friend's place faster than you could say U-bet. Old-fashioned bottled seltzer, cases of it, were waiting. All that stood between me and an authentic Brooklyn Egg Cream were 320 miles and a busted timing chain on the vehicle that I (used to) rely upon for severe winter travel.
It was not until a few weeks ago that I was able to answer my friend's call. Packing two plastic squeeze bottles of Fox's U-bet syrup (the original recipe, made with sugar and only available at Passover), my associate and I saddled up and rode down to Joe and Joel's for two days of good grub, fine company and of course egg creams.
The truth of the matter is that I had not made an egg cream in many years, odd considering that I spent my childhood preparing them from behind the counter of my family's fountain service store in Brooklyn. If you are unfamiliar, the egg cream is a mixture of chocolate syrup, milk and seltzer water. It does not have eggs in it, no. What's with that? Your guess is as good as mine. Here's the wikipage if you're so interested, but don't expect a definitive answer, because it doesn't offer one.
Another truth is that nobody else at Joe's house that weekend cared much whether I produced a good egg cream or not. This was my thing, I realized soon after arriving. If I wanted to make egg creams using Joe's newfound source of seltzer water I could knock myself out. My companions indulged me, I'll give them that much. Joel even bought whole milk in glass bottles just to make for a nice photo op (thanks, Joel) and Joe, well, it was his $3-a-bottle seltzer that I went plowing through in this two-day spritzfest of ours.
Anyway, you aren't here to suffer the strange goings on inside the mind of an obsessive soda jerk. You are here to make an egg cream, so let us have at it.
There is some controversy over the correct order in which an egg cream's ingredients are introduced to a glass, but as the "syrup first, milk second, seltzer last" strategy is advanced by none other than the people at Fox's, then let us go with that one, shall we. (Sorry Roe; you too Patty Boy. The milk, seltzer, then syrup method is a fine one. It may even result in the whitest, thickest head. Whaddaya gonna do!)
After you've got about three-quarters of an inch of syrup and a couple inches of ice cold milk in a tall glass, all that's left to do is add the seltzer. But be careful how you apply it. I've seen people who should know better whip out a spoon and start stirring in a rapid-circular motion as if they're making chocolate milk for a screeching 3-year-old. Bad idea. All this will do is flatten the seltzer.
To make a proper egg cream the stirring motion is more delicate, which makes it a little tricky. To mix the syrup and milk into the seltzer as it's poured into the glass you have to move the spoon up and down, not around and around. And gently. It's true that this could mean not getting every bit of the syrup mixed into the drink, but that's why I always put in more syrup than is required. When I get to the bottom of the glass there's that straight shot of leftover, unmixed chocolate syrup to look forward to. (Oh, and if you're thinking of using a straw, just forget about that, okay. It just is not done.)
I'm man enough to admit that I was a little too rusty to get it right the first few times, but the technique finally came back. So did the taste. I think. My preferred specimens were uniformly sweeter than Joe's, for instance. And yet, as my friend kept reminding me while we drank egg creams and seltzer and, later, wine under his beautiful pergola overlooking the river, it has been years since this drink was a staple in our diet.
"Do we even know the flavor profile of the perfect egg cream anymore?" Joe pondered after an especially trying taste session forced upon the group by, well, me. "It might have escaped us, you know."
I took my time making this egg cream. The head isn't perfectly white, as it should be, but it's close, and the bottom of the glass is properly cleared of syrup.
The flavor? Spot on.
Now, if I could only get Joe's seltzer guy to add me to his route.