Sections

U-BET IT’S GOOD

for The Brooklyn Paper
Share on TwitterTweet
Share on Facebook
Subscribe

Don’t miss our updates:

The egg cream. Beyond a doubt, this concoction of milk, chocolate syrup and seltzer is as Brooklyn as stoopball. And this summer, in recognition of the unique place egg creams hold in the hearts of Brooklynites, Borough President Marty Markowitz is hosting an Egg Cream Extravaganza at noon on Aug. 26 at Borough Hall Plaza.

The celebration will feature an egg cream-making contest open to restaurants, ice cream parlors, delis and luncheonettes, plus plenty of the unofficial drink of Brooklyn and borough trivia contest prizes for the audience.

"Everybody knows that the best place in the world to get a great egg cream is in Brooklyn," said Markowitz. "But it is time to settle, once and for all, who makes the best egg cream. And I can’t wait to taste every single one of them."

And he’s serious.

"For many years, it’s been dormant," Markowitz said Wednesday morning in an interview at Junior’s on Flatbush Avenue. "People 40 and 50 years and up - who’ve been here since they were a kid -remember them. But there’s a large immigrant base in Brooklyn, who’ve been arriving for the last 30 years, and the egg cream is not a drink they have knowledge of. This contest is a friendly effort to rekindle and share this Brooklyn tradition, the history.

"They had egg creams in the Bronx, too," said Markowitz, " but they skimped on the chocolate syrup."

Although the egg cream has certainly flourished in Brooklyn, no one really knows exactly when or where it was invented.

According to "The Encyclopedia of New York City," edited by Kenneth Jackson, one account credits the Yiddish actor Boris Thomashevsky with inventing the drink after sampling chocolat et creme during a tour of Paris. But another hails candy store owner Louis Auster as the originator. In fact, it has been said that Auster sold more than 3,000 egg creams a day from his stores before they closed in the 1950s.

Whoever invented egg creams, one thing’s for sure: They contain neither eggs nor cream. "Brooklyn Almanac," a Brooklyn Educational & Cultural Alliance publication, suggests the name is derived "from their foamy heads, which resemble beaten egg whites."

Egg creams became popular in candy stores in the 1920s, so popular that Elliot Willensky, in "When Brooklyn Was the World: 1920-1957," wrote "a candy store minus an egg cream, in Brooklyn at least, was as difficult to conceive of as the Earth without gravity."

"When I was growing up," said Markowitz, "egg creams were the drink in Brooklyn. Families would get them at candy stores and luncheonettes. They were rated by the quality of their egg creams and lime rickeys."

Willensky calls the candy store "the true anchor of a Brooklyn neighborhood," and the soda fountain, "what really made a candy store a candy store."

"Every fountain had three chromium-plated brass spigots, with black Bakelite handles," writes Willensky. "The center one dispensed tap water. But the other two ’shpritzed’ cold seltzer, the elixir of Brooklyn’s candy stores."

Mixing seltzer with "syrups displayed in wrinkly glass containers" made fruit drinks. Even Cokes were mixed by hand from Coca-Cola Company syrup and seltzer. Cherry Cokes and vanilla Cokes were "products of the combined imagination of soda jerk and customer," Willensky writes. He speculates that egg creams must have been "a product of that same combined imagination."

Markowitz says that if you went to luncheonettes at Empire Boulevard and Brooklyn Avenue or Nostrand Avenue and Empire from 1953 to 1956, you may have been sipping on an egg cream made by his own hand, as he worked as a soda jerk as a kid.

The borough president is putting his first-hand knowledge to work on Aug. 26 when, as one of the panel of judges, he will crown the victorious egg cream maker. He did offer this advice to contestants: "The head is very important. It should be light and as foamy as possible."

Kevin Rosen, co-owner of Junior’s, says, "The key is the seltzer. It has to be out of the [pressurized] container."

"And stir at the same time!" said Markowitz.

Egg cream makers can enter one of two contest categories: nouveau or traditional.

In Brooklyn, the historical popularity of the egg cream was no doubt enhanced by another borough favorite: Fox’s U-Bet Chocolate Flavor Syrup.

H. Fox and Company was founded in a Brownsville basement during the early 1900s, and according to Lyn Stallworth and Rod Kennedy Jr. in "The Brooklyn Cookbook," "You absolutely cannot make an egg cream without Fox’s U-Bet."

The cookbook refers to Fox’s grandson, David, for the story of the syrup’s name:

"The name ’U-Bet’ dates from the late-’20s, when Fox’s grandfather got wildcatting fever and headed to Texas to drill for oil. ’You bet’ was a friendly term the oilmen used. His oil venture a failure, he returned to the old firm, changing Fox’s Chocolate Syrup to Fox’s U-Bet. He said, ’I came back broke but with a good name for the syrup,’ his grandson relates."

The recipe for U-Bet has remained the same since those early years: Brooklyn water, sugar, corn sweeteners, cocoa and some "secret things."

"The Brooklyn Cookbook" also contains an egg cream recipe that high school math teacher Rod Schweiger got from his grandparents and uncle, who owned a candy store on West Eighth Street and Avenue S during the ’40s and ’50s:

"First, you use Fox’s U-Bet. Take a tall Coke-type glass, from the 1950s. Put in 3/4-inch of syrup, then milk up to one-third of the glass. Then you add seltzer from a spritz bottle, the heavy kind with seltzer under pressure. You tilt the glass; if it’s tilted, the force of the seltzer squirted under the milk and syrup pushes foam up on the other side. Fill the rest of the glass with more seltzer, stirring as you spritz. The foam should be white, and at least 1/2-inch thick. The greatest!"

Markowitz has high hopes that his "Egg Cream Extravaganza" will return the confection to the menus of diners all over Brooklyn - and the United States.

"Maybe it will again have a national following," Markowitz said hopefully. "At the very least the contest will put a smile on the faces of some folks."

 

Borough President Marty Markowitz’s Egg Cream Extravaganza takes place at noon on Aug. 26 at Borough Hall Plaza, on Court Street at Joralemon Street. All those who would like to volunteer to be on the judging panel or to obtain a participation form for their establishment, should call Eileen Newman at Borough Hall at (718) 802-3806.

Updated 4:00 pm, November 10, 2010
Today’s news:
Share on TwitterTweet
Share on Facebook
Subscribe

Don’t miss our updates:


Reasonable discourse

Jonathan Kaye from Brownsville says:

Just to let you know the pictue on the Foxes Ubet bottle is my Uncle Roy Atlas in which my mother took him to a piture competion by Foxes U-Bet in 1943. Roy Atlas is very much alive today in New Jersey.


Thanks Jonathan Kaye E-mail jkaye36222@aol.com
Dec. 8, 2007, 1:38 am
suzanne from brooklyn says:
please , someone, help us settle an arguement. does anyone know who the little girl on the bottle of the fox's u bet syrup?
thanks,
suzanne
partopin@gmail.com
Nov. 10, 2008, 10:35 am
P. Moffitt from Redhook says:
I was a kid in Brooklyn 1945-55 on Hamilton Ave. As I recall our candy store was on Clinton Ave, next to the movie theater.
Thank you for the "flood" of happy memories this article evoked. And thanks for the recipe too! I introduced my children and grandchildren years ago to the egg cream but from memory. Now I can make the "real thing" at our next family gathering.
Jan. 21, 2010, 8:09 am
A. Mohr from Red Hook says:
Yes, the candy store was beside the movie theater. The manager of the movie theater was Mr. Berman. He used to let us leave during intermission and buy candy next door and come back in without paying to get back into the theater. A couple of doors down was a shoe repair shop with little boxed in sections where one could sit and take off one's shoes and wait for them while they were being repaired. It would have been nice to have an egg cream while waiting for our shoes, wouldn't it?
Jan. 30, 2010, 12:04 am
Debbie from Flatbush says:
The girl pictured on the ubet bottle's name is Yvette. She was never paid for using her picture.
April 30, 2011, 2:14 pm

Comments closed.

First name
Last name
Your neighborhood
Email address
Daytime phone

Your letter must be signed and include all of the information requested above. (Only your name and neighborhood are published with the letter.) Letters should be as brief as possible; while they may discuss any topic of interest to our readers, priority will be given to letters that relate to stories covered by The Brooklyn Paper.

Letters will be edited at the sole discretion of the editor, may be published in whole or part in any media, and upon publication become the property of The Brooklyn Paper. The earlier in the week you send your letter, the better.

Keep it local!

Stay in touch with your community. Subscribe to our free newsletter: