Urban mythology is an amazing thing, and can easily distort historic fact, giving credit here, taking it from there. Such is the case with the New York Egg Cream.
The Egg Cream is falsely attributed to Louis Auster, a Brooklyn candy-store owner, where it is reputed to have started, at Auster’s soda fountain. We don’t believe this to be true, with every respect to Mr. Auster.
Around 1884, on New York’s Lower East Side, in Manhattan, not far from Brooklyn, drug stores all had soda fountains, selling ice cream and all variety of concoctions, and often pharmaceutical preparations made with syrups and soda. Let’s remember that Coca-Cola was once a medicinal syrup for which one needed a prescription. It was at the soda fountain that your prescription was filled, with syrup added to a glass, topped with seltzer, straight from the fountain. It was usually a pharmacist working the counter, trained in chemistry.
The ice cream soda became very popular in New York with the advent of refrigeration (the ice box), but not everyone could afford it. Generous and charitable Jewish pharmacy owners would often let children, who couldn’t afford a real ice cream soda, have a treat for half-price by eliminating the ice cream, replacing it with milk. Parents accepted this because it was a great way to get their children to drink healthful milk.
By 1885, the Egg Cream had gained popularity and migrated to Brooklyn over the new Brooklyn Bridge, opened only two years earlier. With the migration, the ingredients changed as well. Lower East Side soda fountains served the drink primarily with vanilla syrup, but to be different, the Brooklyn soda fountains primarily used chocolate syrup.
The origins of the name are also in question. Some suggest it comes from the Yiddish echt, meaning real or genuine, calling it “real cream”.Â There may be some truth to this, but we have a different perspective.Â The Lower East Side was a poor neighborhood of immigrants from Europe.Â Coming to America, they always heard that the streets were paved in gold and that wealth was just around the corner.Â They aspired to live well – as well as those in more fashionable parts of New York.Â Wealthy people enjoyed desserts even then with meringue and whipped cream, far out of the reach of the poor.
Emulating the wealthy became de rigeur for those in New York’s poor neighborhoods.Â Having a beverage with a frothy top, similar to either whipped egg whites or whipped cream was more than a treat. It was a status symbol, particularly important to young men and girls who could afford the luxurious flavor and treat of an Egg Cream, named because it was similar, we believe, to the treats enjoyed by the wealthy.
By the 1950s, the popularity of the Egg Cream had made a resurgence with the era of the bobby-soxer.Â Brooklyn soda fountains and restaurants such as Junior’s, served the Brooklyn Egg Cream, along with the Charlotte Russe – a dessert made with cake and whipped cream, topped with a cherry, all assembled in a cardboard mould.
In the 1980s, the Egg Cream faded slowly into history, as it spread across the nation, its recipe being corrupted as it traveled. I remember being in Aberdeen, Ohio once, at a luncheonette cum gas-station where they claimed to make “Genuine New York Egg Creams”.Â Foolishly, I tried one. After the initial shock of finding they had beaten a whole egg with syrup, milk and blended that with ice cream before adding a splash of club soda and serving it with a maraschino cherry, I politely informed the owner of the “genuine” recipe.Â That raw egg concoction still haunts me to this day.
Today, the best way to make an Egg Cream is with a pressured bottle of seltzer or siphon, Fox’s U-Bet Syrup and whole milk.Â Monin syrups work equally well, and I’ve enjoyed making unique egg creams with the diverse range of flavors Monin provides.