The culinary world is full of things that aren’t what they seem. Century eggs haven’t actually been around for 100 years, head cheese isn’t available in the dairy aisle, and Rocky Mountain oysters certainly don’t come from the sea.
Another example—and perhaps more appealing than those other three—is a beverage called an egg cream. No eggs, no cream, just three household liquids and a rich history.
I first heard about the egg cream last year on a trip to Philadelphia. My friend Liz, a native Philadelphian and the most food-crazed person I know, had planned a culinary tour of the city that included a stop at The Franklin Fountain, a classic Americana ice cream joint whose parlor decor and bow-tied saloon workers transport you back to the early 19th century.
Now, this was not your average Baskin-Robbins. Among the milkshakes, ice creams and 25 homemade sodas listed on the menu were eye-catching titles such as “The Stock Market Crunch” and “Tarzan of the Apes.” But one item stood out: the New York egg cream, a fizzy, sweet combination of chocolate syrup, milk and seltzer. (Though egg creams also come in other flavors, chocolate syrup—or, more specifically, Fox’s U-Bet Chocolate Syrup—is the most traditional.)
History was so obviously valued at The Franklin Fountain that I knew in order to have made it onto the menu, this unusual libation had to have some interesting backstory. And as it turns out, it does—in fact, it has a few different backstories, depending on whom you ask. But all the stories seem to have one thing in common: Jews have loved this beverage since the late 19th century.
One of the most widely believed origin stories is that Louis Auster, a Jewish immigrant who owned a candy store in Brooklyn, came up with the idea. The drink became so popular that the line of customers would reach out the store and around the corner. Thirty years after he’d created the beverage, Auster turned down an offer from a national ice cream chain to purchase the rights to the egg cream. Upon hearing the news of Auster’s rejection, one of the company’s executives made an anti-Semitic comment. In response, Auster vowed to take the secret of the egg cream to his grave.
In 2008, The New York Times asked if the egg cream could make a comeback. I say it certainly deserves to—and what better place to start than in your kitchen at home? After sipping an egg cream and chatting with a friendly server at Zaftigs in Brookline, I’ve determined that it’s best to eyeball the ingredient quantities instead of measure them.
First, grab a tall, chilled glass. Add to it about three tablespoons, or one inch, of chocolate syrup. Then pour in about a half-cup, or one inch, of milk. Finally, top off your glass with some crisp, bubbly seltzer water. Give the glass a stir, garnish it with a pretzel rod, and sip through a straw before the bubbles dissipate.
Congratulations—you’ve just done your part in preventing this classic Jewish beverage from going flat!