One of my happiest, most vivid holiday moments was sitting at the counter of Peter Pan Donuts this past Christmas. I stop in often enough to call myself a regular and had a sudden hankering for an old-fashioned Brooklyn egg cream. Elvis Presley’s Blue Christmas was playing on the radio. My husband and I stayed for about an hour without saying much, just watching people come and go.
Good old seltzer has obsessed me for a while now–I’m fascinated by its history as a tonic for all imaginable ailments from indigestion to melancholy and pure nerves. (Hence, Ella Fitzgerald’s claim: “with no Bromo-seltzer handy, I don’t even shake.”) Not to mention its heyday as the drink of choice back in the days of the Main Street drugstore and soda fountain. (For more on that, do take a peek at this terrific book from Brooklyn Farmacy, which packs decades of social history into a slim confectionary bible, along with tips for how to make a real egg cream.)
This past December, I also signed up for an account with the Brooklyn Seltzer Boys, one of the only remaining delivery services left in New York. It’s hard for me to imagine not wanting soda water delivery after hearing about these guys. (I won’t even touch the heartstopping charm of the Seltzer Sisters out on the West Coast.) But for all the skeptics out there who may wonder about the practicality of a hefty crate of seltzer in this day and age: can this lady really imbibe all that fizzy stuff each month? Let me assure you–not only is the taste utterly worth it: clean, sparkly and refined, beyond any bottled seltzer I know. There are also endless ways to enjoy this age-old wonder drink, from medicinal tonics with all manner of bitters, to easy at-home egg creams, tea sodas and even cocktails.
I love egg creams (it may go back to many summers waitressing at Richard’s Deli on the Jersey Shore) and naturally look to any experts I can find here in Brooklyn. I didn’t stop at Brooklyn Farmacy’s maple egg cream on a dreamy date there earlier this week. The effervescent soda jerk, Jackson, offered a series of insights about using different textures and flavors to create mind-blowing sundaes, like using broken pretzel bits and bottom-of-the-barrel pretzel salt to top off their much-lauded Sundae of Broken Dreams. How could I not try one? I went for the My Cherie Amour–a mound of rich, dense and very chocolate-y ice cream built on a foundation of Charlotte Russe-like shortcake drenched in maraschino cherry juice. My husband was rendered speechless, slipping into a childhood reverie and bursting out with other memory fragments like the joy of Seinfeld’s “old cake” episode when Elaine accidentally eats King Edward VIII’s old wedding cake.
Much as I’ve been weaning myself off months of excessive butter and sugar consumption (with daily doses of seltzer, aromatic bitters and tea sodas,) why stop at that Proustian sundae? A few days later, I found myself making a cherry trifle, using some clutch ingredients on hand at home. Note that the last time I made a trifle was roughly a quarter-century ago for a grade-school project: historical recipes intrigued me from a young age and I somehow felt compelled to instruct my class how to make a British trifle at show-and-tell. For the adult version, I dipped ladyfinger cookies from the local Polish bodega in a beautiful cherry liqueur given to me by friends in Denver some time ago; its flavors seem to have ripened nicely with age.
Trifles strike me as an elegant, comforting dessert for winter, and are easy to make with just a few odds-and-ends, in case you find it hard to venture out into the cold. Of course, I also like to keep a few Peter Pan doughnuts around to surprise my son after school, along with the occasional egg cream or homemade soda. Want to hear more about nostalgic tea sodas, like The Owl’s Brew all-natural Dr. Pepper and Mountain Dew made from ingredients like cherry and green tea or chamomile and pineapple? Stay tuned for the next issue of These Foolish Things for the scoop on fizzy tea and bitters.