March 26, 2012
Now that I’ve got your attention, I’d like to explore a quintessential sound of summer climbing in your window, snatching up your sanity: the incessant chiming of ice cream trucks everywhere.
The tune you’re hearing—“Mister Softee (Jingle and Chimes)”—was written by Les Waas, who had been working for Grey Advertising, a small Philadelphia ad agency, in the late 1950s. He worked as a kind of one-man band of an adman. One day, his boss asked for a jingle for Kissling’s sauerkraut. Waas came up with one (“It’s fresh and clean, without a doubt. In transparent Pliofilm bags, it’s sold. Kissling’s Sauerkraut, hot or cold.”) The jingle played on kids’ TV shows and eventually got him in trouble, he says, when sauerkraut sales outpaced production and the company pulled its ad. Anyway, in 1960 (or thereabouts, he’s not so sure, it could have been as early as 1956), he wrote the lyrics for a regional ice cream company called Mister Softee:
Here comes Mister Softee
The soft ice cream man.
The creamiest, dreamiest soft ice cream,
You get from Mister Softee.
For a refreshing delight supreme
Look for Mister Softee…
S-O-F-T double E, Mister Softee.
The company gave him a 12-inch bell, which he took to New York to record an infectious three-minute earworm of an ad—with an original melody, recorded in one take. Some years later, again the date is unclear, company employees took the jingle’s melody and made a 30-second loop to put on their trucks. Waas says he received a telegram from Mister Softee saying it would have been only a tiny company with two or three trucks in South Jersey if it weren’t for the indelible sonic branding.
Now, for a quick refresher: Ice cream’s immense popularity in America dates to the 19th century, in the wake of the Civil War, when street vendors hawked a scoop of ice cream, or frozen milk, for a penny. Some wheeled carts; others employed goats. They sold their wares with catchy nonsense phrases: “I scream, Ice cream” and “Hokey pokey, sweet and cold; for a penny, new or old.” (Hokey pokey appears to have derived from a children’s jump-rope chant, including one derisively directed at kids who didn’t have a penny for ice cream.) As Hillel Schwartz writes in Making Noise, “Street vendors stretched their call into loud, long, and progressively unintelligible wails.” In the Babel of Manhattan, the cries were an “audible sign of availability.”
“If these cries were not enough to attract attention, many hokey pokey men also rang bells,” Anne Cooper Funderburg writes in Chocolate, Strawberry, and Vanilla: A History of American Ice Cream. Perhaps the ding! ding! in Waas’ proprietary jingle became a cultural icon because the bells conjured up the hokey pokey street vendors jingling about their ice creams.
What’s strangest about this story of the adman and his sprightly little jingle that endured: Waas claims that he has only heard it played on ice cream truck once. He was out at a Phillies baseball game with his son and went up to a truck. Waas again: “I said, ‘We both want a popsicle, but we’ll buy it only if you play the jingle.’ The guy says, ‘I can’t. I’m on private property.’ So we start to walk away and the guy stops us and says, ‘What the hell.’ And then he plays it. That was the only time I heard it and, of course, it was only the melody.”
This is the first in a series on sound and food. Stay tuned for more bells and whistling melodies.
January 3, 2012
A new year is here and we are all looking forward to what 2012 might bring—namely with regards to food. (Is there be a condiment revolution brewing? Will it be televised?) But before we get too caught up in looking ahead, let’s look back at the past 12 months here on Food and Think. Lisa recently rounded up a list of her favorite posts from the past year, but now let’s look at the most popular posts among our readers in 2011.
1. Why Don’t Other Countries Use Ice Cubes? Lisa posed and explored the question about why the custom of using those little bricks of frozen water to chill drinks is so big here in the States but not so much in other parts of the world. Perhaps it’s because they take up too much space in a glass that could otherwise be occupied by the actual drink, or because—at least in hotter countries—hot drinks can actually be used to cool a person down.
2. Four Deadly Disasters Caused By Food Be it a flood of molasses crashing through the streets at 35 miles per hour or exploding flour mills, food can be seriously destructive—and deadly. However, in looking at the comments thread, I have to wonder if there was more interest in the verbiage than in the image of people being swept away by a floods of molasses or beer.
3. Five Ways to Eat Persimmons What does one do with those brilliant orange fruits? Sure, you can eat them on their own, but why not up the ante a bit with a few of these ideas—which include salads, mixed drinks and desserts. And be sure to know which type of persimmon you’re buying before you chow down. Unripe hachyia persimmons might completely kill your interest.
4. The Sweet Sound of Vegetables Thankfully, the members of this Vienna-based musical group didn’t listen to that age-old parental admonishment: “Don’t play with your food!” Looking to the produce aisle for inspiration, they find musicality in a variety of veggies which are crafted into instruments and used in live performances.
5. Five Ways to Cook with Pumpkin We’ve all done the pie. It’s great, won’t knock it—but come on, there’s gotta be more that this squash can do. From eating the seeds, to using them in soups and baking, you can show a much broader appreciation for pumpkin in your kitchen.
6. The File Inside the Cake: True Tales of Prison Escape Baking a file inside a cake as a means to get out of jail might sound like the cliched stuff of Saturday morning cartoons. Well, it turns out that jailbirds actually have used baked goods as a means to fly the coop.
7. Five Ways to Eat Cadbury Crème Eggs Those little chocolate eggs with the gooey white and yellow filling are one of the ultimate guilty pleasure foods come Easter. But why satisfy yourself with eating them as is? Deviled, fried or in a McFlurry (in certain markets), there are lots more ways to use these seasonal sugar bombs.
8. Tastes Like Disco To celebrate her husband’s 33rd birthday, Lisa did some culinary detective work to craft a dinner menu straight from 1978. (Seems the heavy cream sauces should remain in the past.) Paired with a playlist including the likes of Fleetwood Mac, Steely Dan and the Bee Gees, a birthday meal doesn’t get groovier than this.
9. Why Did Jewish Communities Take to Chinese Food? A somewhat tongue-in-cheeck sociological study offers insight into the trend of Jewish families dining out at Chinese restaurants. At least in part, Chinese cooking can abide by kosher law and the restaurants themselves served as safe havens for people dealing with antagonism from a largely Christian nation.
10. Hamburger: The Quintessential American Meal Ah, the humble hamburger: where did it come from and why did diners in this country show the little slab of beef on a bun so much love? Between some clever marketing from early hamburger restauranteurs and the fact that the dish is a remarkably versatile creative medium, what’s not to love?
December 30, 2011
This is our last Food & Think post of the year. Sadly, it also happens to be my last ever—or at least for the foreseeable future. With my due date approaching in a few months, I’ve decided one full-time job (I am a senior editor at Adirondack Life magazine) plus new motherhood is about all I can handle for a while. I have learned so many interesting things about food in the last two and a half years of writing for the blog—and I still plan to, but now as a reader instead of writer.
I’ve compiled a list of some of my favorite posts of the year—those that I either particularly enjoyed reading or writing. If you missed any of them, I hope you’ll go back and give them a look.
1. Beer Batter Is Better; Science Says So. Without T. A. Frail’s important batter research in January, we all might have eaten inferior onion rings in 2011. Thank you, Tom.
2. Unwrapping the History of the Doggie Bag. Also back in January, Jesse detailed how the practice of wrapping up “bones for Bowser” evolved into bringing home leftovers never intended to touch canine lips.
3. Renaissance Table Etiquette and the Origins of Manners. Jesse’s look at pre-Emily Post do’s and don’ts includes one of my favorite lines of the year: On farting at the dinner table, Erasmus writes, “If it is possible to withdraw, it should be done alone. But if not, in accordance with the ancient proverb, let a cough hide the sound.”
4. Inviting Writing: When in Rome. Inviting Writing has always been one of my favorite parts of the blog—to both write and read. Of the ones I wrote, the one reminiscing about a perfect meal in Rome was particularly enjoyable.
5. Law and Order: Culinary Crimes Unit. That Jesse had the material to write not one but six posts on food-related crime is both astonishing and entertaining. Read them all: the original; Jell-O Gelatin Unit; Ice Cream Truck Unit; More Culinary Crimes; Even More Food Crimes; and New Culinary Crimes.
6. Science in the Public Interest: The Beer Koozie Test. I’ll admit, this one was fun to both research and write. But, like T. A. Frail’s onion ring research, I believe it performed an important reader service.
7. Inviting Writing: What to Eat When You’re Adopting. One of my favorite guest essays this year was by Amy Rogers Nazarov, who wrote a touching piece on learning about Korean food while waiting to meet her adopted son.
8. The Other Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas. Jesse tells us about the cookbook written by Alice B. Toklas, famous as the longtime lover of Gertrude Stein and the title subject of one of the celebrated author’s best-known works.
9. The Gingerbread Man and Other Runaway Foods. Who knew there was a whole literary genre of runaway pancakes? Well, anyone who read Jesse’s enlightening post from earlier this month.
With that, I bid you adieu. Have a wonderful 2012, everyone.
Ed. note — Thank you, Lisa, for the 272 posts that carry your byline. You’ll be dearly missed and here’s to a very happy and joyful 2012!
December 20, 2011
If you’re Jewish—and maybe even if you’re not—there’s an excellent chance that you will eat latkes sometime before the end of Hanukkah next week (it starts tonight). I fully support this: Latkes are delicious. It wouldn’t be Hanukkah without them. (I’m going with a zucchini-potato version this year to fit in with my low-carb pregnancy diet.) But are you going to eat them all eight nights of the festival of lights? Probably not.
I’ve been thinking it’s time to throw some new food traditions into the Hanukkah mix. I have a few ideas to propose:
Have a fryapalooza. The reason latkes are so associated with the holiday is that they’re fried, evoking the miracle of the oil that was supposed to last no more than one night but lasted for eight. So why stop at shredded potatoes? Have a fried-food fest that would put the Iowa State Fair to shame.
There are at least two ways you could go here. One is down-home, with fried pickles from Homesick Texan; corn dogs from Average Betty (using Hebrew National wieners, of course); Paula Deen’s Southern fried chicken; and don’t forget your veggies—Grit magazine’s fried zucchini, perhaps. For dessert, if you and your guests aren’t doubled over with stomachaches by this time, may I suggest funnel cakes, those crispy fried dough treats dusted with powdered sugar? Moms Who Think shows you how to make them.
Another way to go would be a world tour of fried food. Mediterranean appetizers could include Spanish-inspired smoky fried chickpeas from Food52 or Italian fried olives from Giada De Laurentiis. Japanese tempura vegetables have a lighter, more delicate flavor than their Western counterparts; Leite’s Culinaria shares a recipe from Yotam Ottolenghi’s new vegetable cookbook Plenty (which I’m hoping Hanukkah Harry brings me). And, though less famous than the cheesy Swiss version, fondue bourguignonne, where pieces of meat are speared on a fondue fork and cooked in hot oil, lets your guests get interactive. Make your final stop in Israel for a dessert that really is a Hanukkah tradition, the jelly doughnuts called sufganiyot; Chow shows how it’s done.
Whichever way you decide to go, this fatty menu should probably be followed by a juice cleanse. Of course, you could always space these recipe ideas out over the course of the holiday instead of eating them all in one go. But where’s the fun in that?
Dip it, don’t fry it. There’s no rule that says oil is only for frying. In fact, as Italians and other people from around the Mediterranean have long known, some oil is just too delicious to waste by heating away its flavor. You could host an olive oil tasting party with quality oils and slices of good bread, then follow the tasting with a meal of salads and other dishes that highlight the star ingredient. Kim Vallée and Fine Cooking magazine both offer suggestions for pulling it off.
Eat a miracle (fruit). Unlike the Passover story, which requires the whole Haggadah to explain, the Hanukkah story is told succinctly by the dreidel, the spinning top with four sides spelling out in Hebrew, “A great miracle happened there.” Although the name has more to do with marketing than divine intervention, so-called miracle fruit is pretty neat anyway. Miracle fruit is a West African berry that temporarily alters the way you perceive flavors, turning everything sweet—even something as sour as a lemon—for a while. It’s similar, though much more dramatic, to what happens when you eat an artichoke. The berries are available frozen, dried or in tablet form, or you can buy seedlings and grow your own. You could turn the evening into a game, serving an array of foods, some with bitter or sour flavors, and asking blindfolded guests to guess what they are.
December 16, 2011
Children—though by no means all of them—tend to be fairly picky eaters. Most expand their culinary horizons as they get older, but a few people hold fast to limited diets of safe, familiar things like chicken nuggets and macaroni and cheese. My friend and co-worker Niki is one of them.
You know that queasy, I-can’t-bear-to-watch feeling you get watching a show like Bizarre Foods, as host Andrew Zimmern slurps down fried worms or rotten shark meat? Niki feels that way about foods that most of us consider perfectly edible, like eggs or raisins. She has a byzantine list of rules for what she is willing (or, more often, not willing) to eat: No cooked fruit. No “out of context” sweetness (which she defines as anything other than dessert). No cookies with nuts. No soft fruit. No dried fruit. In fact, hardly any fruit other than apples. Cheese only if melted. Tomatoes only in sauce, and then only without chunks. No eggs. No mayonnaise. (Her version of a BLT is a bacon and butter sandwich.)
Everyone has a few popular foods they dislike—the first piece I ever wrote for Food & Think, about my distaste for the ubiquitous herb cilantro, is still one of the blog’s most commented-on—but Niki’s list is so long and inscrutable that she has become a source of fascination to our other co-workers and me.
It turns out scientists are fascinated, too. Researchers at Duke University have been studying picky eating as a bona-fide disorder, with “selective eating” being considered for addition to the next version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, due out in 2013, according to the Wall Street Journal. Although the causes of selective eating aren’t yet known, there appear to be some patterns: smell and texture are often more important than flavor, for instance. A possible link to obsessive-compulsive tendencies is being explored.
With such a limited diet, people with the disorder sometimes find it hinders their social lives or even careers, not to mention the potential for nutritional deficiencies. But if it’s a disorder, is it curable?
Niki is giving it a shot. Although her friends and family have long become accustomed to her quirky preferences, I think the recent attention to her diet at work has caused her to think more about why she feels as she does. A couple of months ago, on the way to lunch to celebrate her 39th birthday, I commented (probably insensitively, in retrospect) that maybe when she was 40 she would start trying new foods.
She decided to do me one better and start that very day. At lunch she ordered her first Bloody Mary—a bacon Bloody Mary, so that there would at least be one ingredient she knew she liked. It didn’t go over well.
But Niki persisted. She resolved to eat a new food every day until her 40th birthday. She started a blog called Picky Niki (with the tagline: Choking Down 365 New Foods) to chart her results. So far many of the foods have bombed, but she has discovered a handful that she can tolerate, and a few she really likes. If she sticks with it for the rest of the year, her repertoire will have expanded considerably.
As for me, I will try to be more understanding of her predicament and stop the teasing. I admire what she’s doing, and truly hope it opens up new possibilities for her. And maybe I’ll even give cilantro another shot. Yecchh.