Try Moxie, they said.

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My first introduction to Moxie came as I read Stuart Little in the 1950s. Stuart, on his journey to find his lost love Margalo, stopped at a gas station and asked about something to drink.

“Have you any sarsaparilla in your store?” asked Stuart. “I’ve got a ruinous thirst.”
“Certainly,” said the storekeeper. “Gallons of it. Sarsaparilla, root beer, birch beer, ginger ale, Moxie, lemon soda, Coca Cola, Pepsi Cola, Dipsi Cola, Pipsi Cola, Popsi Cola, and raspberry cream tonic. Anything you want.”

At the time I had no idea what Moxie was, but was delighted to find out later that it was a real thing, unlike the Dipsi, Pipsi, and Popsi colas mentioned. And yes, it’s definitely an acquired taste. It’s reminiscent of root beer or sarsparilla, but the dominant flavoring is gentian root, which brings a bitterness to the drink not found in other soft drinks (unless you’re fond of Campari soda, not usually found outside of Italy.) God forbid anyone should make a soda version of Fernet-Branca!

But Moxie is different, and refreshing. The bitterness doesn’t bother me, in fact it makes the concoction more satisfying on a hot day than something that’s just overly sugary. I may like it for the same reason I like chestnut honey, which I discovered on a trip to Slovenia – wonderfully full-bodied, with that same distinctive bitterness which offsets the sweetness nicely.

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Originating around 1876 as a patent medicine called “Moxie Nerve Food,” Moxie is closely associated with the state of Maine and was designated the official soft drink of Maine on May 10, 2005. Its creator, Dr. Augustin Thompson, was born in Union, Maine. (Extracted from Wikipedia)

For the longest time, Frank Anicetti ran the Moxie Museum in Lisbon, Maine; this year saw the closure of the store, which was at the heart of Maine’s annual Moxie Festival since 1913.

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Frank Anicetti serves up Moxie ice cream

But even though the Kennebec Fruit Company store is gone, Moxie will stay close to the hearts and stomachs of Mainahs; there’s still the Matthews Museum in Union, which has an entire wing devoted to Moxie.

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The Moxie Wing at the Matthews Museum in Union, Maine

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Now in the interest of full disclosure, I’m still a Pepper, and always have been. In my years sojourning in Europe, I discovered that Europeans – while they find Coke and Pepsi palatable – generally look upon Root Beer and Dr Pepper as tasting like medicine. With that in mind, I suspect Moxie wouldn’t find much of a market in Vienna or Ljubljana… in fact, it might be just enough to turn even our best European friends into a torch-and-pitchfork waving mob.

But such is life. The poor souls probably wouldn’t appreciate nattō either. They have my sympathy. For the moment, I’m happy to be in Maine, where Moxie is readily available.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

Whistleberries and hounds, a pair!

If you’ve ever heard that hollered by an overworked server to a harried cook at your local greasy spoon, you might have just ordered a pair of franks with baked beans.

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Welcome to my stream of consciousness morning.

A recent article at the Sydney Morning Herald provided a fascinating insight into coded language used by healthcare professionals, flight attendants, butchers, and others. (For example, COPD can not only stand for Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, but also “Chronic Old Person’s Disease.”) The article is a fascinating read.

That led me to think of diner slang, a subject lovingly researched by John Clarke, the husband of a dear friend of mine whom I knew for over 60 years and who recently left this world (far too soon, I might add.) I’m not sure where his research is at the moment, but I know John has dedicated a good bit of time to exploring the ins and outs of this fine art of colorful communication.

I reproduce below, entirely without permission and acknowledging copyright ©2003 by John Clarke, a diner slang quiz which appeared in the Spring 2003 edition of Gastronomica, the Journal of Food and Culture, but which deserves much wider appreciation. Answers below: Don’t peek!

America’s original quick-bite places – the main-street soda fountain, the corner lunchionette, and the roadside diner – shared a special, often secret, culture of language. During the Golden Age of slinging slang from 1925 to 1945, waitstaff and kitchen workers communicated in colorful shorthand.

How good is your slang? See if you can match the twelve sassy term in Column A with the classic American home-style desserts in Column B.

Bonus Question: “Give me Eve with the roof on, a crow slab covered in spla, maiden and tar, plus a stretch with frost and sissy sticks!” What’s being ordered?

1. Ant Paste A. Apple pie
2. Bellyache B. Chocolate pudding
3. Chinese wedding cake C. Custard pie
4. Gold fish D. Cruller
5. House boat E. Banana Split
6. Matrimony knot F. Fudge
7. Magoo G. Bowl of strawberry gelatin
8. Ploughed field H. Ice cream sundae
9. Shivering Liz in the hay I. Sliced peaches
10. Slab of sin J. Rice pudding
11. Snow White on a stick K. Turnover
12. Windbag L. Vanilla ice cream cone

Answers:

1-B, 2-H. 3-J, 4-I, 5-E, 6-D, 7-C, 8-F. 9-G, 10-A, 11-L, 12-K

Bonus Question: Apple pie with a top crust, chocolate pie covered with whipped cream, cherry pie and a mug of coffee, and a large Coke™ with crushed ice and two straws!

Thanks to the wonders of the Internet which rarely forgets, here’s a list of diner slang assembled by Dave Hutchins over at Discuss Cooking – the list has been alphabetized and edited a bit for clarity:

A blond with sand: Coffee with cream and sugar
An MD: Dr Pepper
A spot with a twist: Cup of tea with lemon
Adam & Eve on a raft: Two poached eggs on toast
And cinnamon: Dropped in a bowl of milk
Angel: Sandwich man
Baled hay: Shredded wheat
Balloon juice: Seltzer or soda water
Belch water: Alka Seltzer
Billiard: Buttermilk
Bird seed: Breakfast
Black and white: Chocolate soda with vanilla ice cream
Blood hounds in the hay: Hot dogs and sauerkraut
Blow out patches: Pancakes
Blue plate special: a dish of meat, potato, vegetable also daily special
Boiled leaves: Tea
Bossy in a bowl: Beef stew
Bow Wow, Ground hog: A hot dog
Bowl of Red: Chili con carne
Break it and shake it: Add egg to a drink
Breath: Onion
Bridge Party: Four of any thing (from the bridge game)
Bubble dancer: Dish washer
Bullets or whistleberries: Baked beans (because of supposed flatulence)
Burn one: Fry a hamburger
Burn one, take it through the garden: Hamburger with lettuce tomato, onion
Burn the British: Toasted English muffin
Cackle fruit: Eggs
Canned cow: Evaporated milk
Chopper: Table knife
CJ: Boston Cream cheese and Jelly
Cowboy or western: A western omelet or sandwich
Cow paste, Skid grease, Axle grease: Butter
Creep: Draft beer
Crowd: Three of any thing (as in, “Two is company three is a crowd”)
Customer will take a chance: Hash
Dead eye: Poached eggs
Dough well done with cow: Buttered toast
Drag one through Georgia: Cola with Chocolate syrup
Draw one in the dark: A Black coffee
Draw one or a cup of mud: Cup of coffee
Eighty Six: The kitchen is out of the item ordered
Fifty-five: A glass of root beer
Flop two fry:  Two eggs any style
Frenchman’s delight: Pea soup
Frog sticks: French Fries
Fry two, let the sun shine: 2 eggs with unbroken yolks
GAC: Grilled American cheese sandwich
Gallery: Booth
Go for a walk or on wheels: it’s to go
Grave yard stew: Milk toast buttered toast sprinkled with sugar
Gravel train: Sugar bowl
Hail: Ice
Hemorrhage: Ketchup
High and dry: A plain sandwich with nothing on it
Hockey Puck: A hamburger well done
Hold the hail: No ice
Hot top: Hot Chocolate
Hug one or squeeze one: Orange juice
In the alley: Served as a side dish
Jack Benny: Cheese with bacon )Named after Jack Benny)
Java or Joe: Cup of coffee
Keep off the grass: No Lettuce
Lady Bug: Fountain man
Life preserver: Doughnut
Light House: Ketchup bottle
Looseners: Prunes
Lumber: tooth pick
Machine oil: Syrup
Mike & Ike or the twins: salt & pepper shakers
Million on a platter: Plate of baked beans
Mississippi mud or yellow paint: Mustard
Moo juice, Baby juice, Sweet Alice: Milk
Mystery in the alley: Side order of hash
No cow: without milk
Noah’s boy on bread: Ham sandwich
Noah’s son: Slice of ham (Noah’s second son)
One from the Alps: A Swiss cheese sandwich
Paint it Red: Put ketchup on it
Pair of drawers: two cups of coffee
Pin a rose on it: Add Onion to a order
Put out the lights and cry: Liver and onions
Rabbit food: Lettuce
Radio: Tuna salad sandwich
Sea Dust: Salt
Shake one in the hay: Strawberry milk shake
Shingle with a shimmy and a shake: Buttered toast with jam or jelly
Shoot from the south: Coca Cola™
Smear: Margarine
Soup Jockey: Waitress
Stack or short stack: Order of pancakes
Sun kiss or oh gee: Orange juice
Sweep the kitchen: Hash
Throw it in the mud: Add Chocolate syrup
Two cows, make them cry: two hamburgers with onion
Vermont: Maple syrup
Warts: Olives
Wax: American cheese
Whisky down: rye toast
Whisky: Rye bread
White cow: Vanilla milk shake
Wind mill, Adams ale, city juice, dog soup: A glass of water
Yum yum or sand: Sugar
Zeppelin: Sausage

I got a big kick out of “Put out the lights and cry” – I’m a big fan of liver and onions, but apparently many others are not.

These terms can be very regional and original, so there were likely to be many terms for the same item around the country. A more comprehensive list should be forthcoming when I have the time.

In the meantime, wreck two and make them cry.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

“He takes them to a pastry shop to eat some good cakes.”

For as long as I can remember – my very earliest reading days in the 50s – Babar was one of my favorite children’s books. I always loved this page, where Babar takes his two little cousins Arthur and Celeste to a patisserie… those pastries always looked so good to me, and my mother had already introduced me to the delights of brioches.

Babar

Yesterday was my wife’s birthday, and we spent the day doing a massive Yarn Hop around the local yarn stores of Salt Lake, but before heading home, we stopped in at “Gourmandise,” a French bakery/café that sits at 250 South 300 East, right where the original Ratskeller Pizza Shoppe used to be.

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Photo from their website

That display of pastries and other goodies is Babar come to life for me, and the quality is every bit what I would expect. (No, they’e not paying me for this post.)

Here are two of the goodies we brought home last night, the other two were devoured before I thought of writing this, and they were absolutely divine.

Pastries

Yes, they’re pricey – but you don’t find stuff like this for a buck and a quarter at Smith’s. It’s probably a very good thing that I’m not wealthy enough or close enough to patronize these guys on a regular basis, or I’d look like Fat Albert.

The Old Wolf has *belch*  spoken.

Never eat chemicals! Uh, wait…

If you listen to the Food Babe Thermonuclear Idiot, that’s what you might come away believing.

But I exhort you to pay no attention to this unqualified attention harlot. Instead, feast your eyes on these chemical breakdowns of “natural” and “organic” foods.

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I have to stretch to pronounce some of the chemical compounds found in these wonderful foods, but that doesn’t mean they’re bad for you. Chemicals are everywhere, they are what everything organic around us is made of.

Yes, we obviously want to avoid things that are known toxins and carcinogens; having a shaker full of hexavalent chromium on your table is probably not the best idea, but you get the picture.

Educate yourselves. Make sure your children educate themselves. Science is doing its collective best to provide accurate information to allow people to build a better world. Please pay no attention to those on the lunatic fringe who base their proclamations on innuendo and fear-mongering for the sake of attention, eyeballs, clicks, and ad revenue.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

No Hamburger Tuesday.

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I would gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today. But during WW 1 and WW 2, Tuesday was a day of rationing. I originally thought this sign had something to do with Thimble Theatre, but it turns out it has more to do with the European and Pacific theaters.

During World War I, President Woodrow Wilson issued a proclamation calling for every Tuesday to be meatless and for one meatless meal to be observed every day, for a total of nine meatless meals each week. The United States Food Administration (USFA) urged families to reduce consumption of key staples to help the war effort. Conserving food would support U.S. troops as well as feed populations in Europe where food production and distribution had been disrupted by war. To encourage voluntary rationing, the USFA created the slogan “Food Will Win the War” and coined the terms “Meatless Tuesday” and “Wheatless Wednesday” to remind Americans to reduce intake of those products.

Herbert Hoover was the head of the Food Administration as well as the American Relief Association during Woodrow Wilson’s presidency, and played a key role implementing the campaign, which was one of Hoover’s many attempts to encourage volunteerism and sacrifice among Americans during the war. The USFA provided a wide variety of materials in addition to advertising, including recipe books and menus found in magazines, newspapers and government-sponsored pamphlets.

The campaign returned with the onset of World War II, calling upon women on the home front to play a role in supporting the war effort. During this time, meat was being rationed, along with other commodities like sugar and gasoline.

This particular photo seems to have been taken in New York, where Nedicks was a big chain.

It does not escape me that the waitress is offering you a hot dog on meatless Tuesday. John Godfrey Saxe once said, “Laws, like sausages, cease to inspire respect in proportion as we know how they are made.” Which reminds me of the old joke about a customer who returned some hot dogs to his butcher, complaining that the middle section was filled with sawdust. The butcher replied, “Times are tough. It’s hard enough making both ends meat…”

The Old Wolf has spoken.

Another Lost Product: Stella d’Oro egg biscuits

I’ve written before and copiously about Sara Lee Frozen All-Butter Brownies. But for a long time I’ve been craving these lost little treats from Stella d’Oro, flower-shaped biscuits that I used to get at my nonna’s house in New York when I was young.

Stella D'Oro Egg Biscuits

Not soft, not crunchy, but with a unique texture all thier own. And they appear to have vanished forever. I have written to Stella d’Oro and begged for a resurrection of this product, as I know many others have done, but thus far our pleas have fallen on deaf ears.

Someone suggested that Clementi’s original taralli are as close as you can get:

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Taralli (foreground) and other yummy things from Clementi

And I’d try some in a heartbeat but you have to order them by the case. Other websites sell them by the pack, but at double the price plus shipping, so I’ll have to wait until I can get down to Hackensack to pick up a bag and see for myself, which thing I will not fail to do.

Speaking of taralli, let me introduce you to Graziella. The photo and text below are from The Italians, Face of a Nation by John Phillips, published in 1965 by McGraw-Hill.

Graziella

“When Graziella was born in 1864, Lincoln was President of the United States of America, Napoleon III was Emperor of France, Bismarck was Chancellor of Prussia, Victoria was Queen of England, and Victor Emmanuel II was the first ruler of the new kingdom of Italy. Thirty-nine months before, an ancient civilization had finally become a young nation. though France maintained the sovereignty of the Papacy over Rome, while Austria retained the Italian-speaking provinces of Mantua, Venice and Trento. Graziella was two when Victor Emmanuel took advantage of the Austro-Prussian war to annex Mantua and Venice. On her seventh birthday, after Napoleon fell, her monarch got a special present: Rome.
Graziella never did learn to read. Her sovereign was more interested in colonial annexation than in the literacy rate of his people. At eighteen, the cheerful illiterate married a Neapolitan diver. That was the year Italy took her first dip into colonialism and came up with Assab, on the Red Sea. During Graziella’s first pregnancy, Italy signed her first international agreement and joined the Triple Alliance. This pact favored Austria, the hereditary enemy, and benefited Germany, but it did gratify the Italian national pride.
The first of Graziella’s nine children was born the same year that a blacksmith’s wife had a son whose name was Benito Mussolini. The birth of Graziella’s second child coincided with the conquest of Eritrea. Then came Teresa in 1892, the year the Italian socialists held their first congress. By the time Assunta was born, two years later, the socialist party had been dissolved. In 1895 Graziella had her fifth child in the midst of national rejoicing – Ethiopia had been conquered, Graziella mourned the death of her sixth child in the midst of national grief over being driven out of Ethiopia. Rosa’s birth preceded the tumultuous riots of 1898, which led to reprisals against the workers who had participated in them. Peppino was born the year Umberto l was assassinated in reprisal for the 1898 reprisals. Graziella’s last child celebrated her tenth birthday the year Italy conquered Libya and Cyrenaica.
A year later, in 1913, Graziella went to work to supplement her husband’s earnings. She had been selling fried peppers and eggplant for a year when the socialist firebrand Benito Mussolini tried to start a revolution at the outbreak of World War 1. Mussolini was against nationalism and war. The spring of 1915, Graziella moved her stand next to Zi Teresa, a restaurant on Naples’ waterfront, as Italy switched partners and declared war on her former allies of the Triple Alliance – in the name of “Holy Egoism.” In return, Italy received Trento, Alto Adige, Venezia Giulia, Trieste, and the Istrian Peninsula. Graziella was 58 when Mussolini became a nationalist, and 71 at the time he attacked Ethiopia. She was 75 the year the Duce blustered into World War II, and 80 when he could be seen dangling head down at a gas station in Milan.
Graziella became a widow the year the monarchy was abolished in 1946. Since then, too old to fry peppers and eggplant, she sells taralli. You can find her along Santa Lucia any day the weather is fair.”

What an incredible life; it reflects a century of Italian history. I lived in Naples in 1969, and I swear I saw Graziella there; I suspect, however, that I’m just combining my own memories with the images and words from this lovely book, because by that time Graziella would have been 105. At any rate, thinking of taralli always makes me think of her; you can see the massive ones she sold in the picture above.

If you want to try some of your own, I found a likely recipe at Lidia’s Italy.

Please, Stella d’Oro, bring back your egg biscuits.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

Ersatzkaffee

I can’t drink coffee any longer, and haven’t since 1969. I used to consume it by the gallon, or by the thimbleful when I lived in Naples, Italy – lots and lots of thimbles. Back when “uno normale” cost 50 Lire, the equivalent of 8¢.

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Nowadays my caffeine addiction is fed in other ways.

DrPepperIV

But there are times when a hot cup of something hits the spot, and this idea has never really appealed to me:

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Enter Erzatzkaffee, a German word meaning “coffee substitute.” I remember hearing my mom talk about this when I was a kid back in the 50s, and the impression I got was that it was made from anything they could find, sorta like this:

Rag Man from Project Luser

Apparently it wasn’t quite as bad as all that. Mit herzlichem Dank an Benutzer Helmut0815 over at the Axis History Forum, I found this:

In wartime Germany as well as in early postwar era there was of course a massive shortage of coffee as Germany was cut off from it’s resources. Real coffee was only available on the black market.
So the people drank Ersatzkaffee widely known as “Muckefuck” (from french “Mocca faux” = false coffee) which was made from roasted chicory roots, malt, barley, rye, acorn and many other things which were available. Of course this Ersatzkaffee did not contain any caffeine.

Some popular brands were Linde’s Kaffee-Ersatz-Mischung, Kathreiner Malzkaffee, Koff and Effka.

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After I gave up coffee, I took to drinking Postum™, once a ubiquitous feature of Greyound Bus waystations all over the country, to be found in little packets right next to the Sanka™ instant coffee, but over time its popularity faded and it was discontinued in 2007. Fortunately for me, Eliza’s Quest foods acquired the trademark and Postum™ is now once again in stores and can be had online.

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The product was responsible for multiple foilings of “Mr. Coffee Nerves:”

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After a two-year stay in Austria, I came home converted to Caro™, which tastes a lot closer to coffee:

Caro Landkaffee

Fortunately for me, Caro™ is marketed in the USA as Pero™.

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These products are based on malted barley, chicory, and rye, and although an inveterate coffee drinker would probably think they taste like panther piss, after a while they grow on you if you can’t have the real thing.

A lot better than pencil shavings, at any road.

The Old Wolf has spoken.