Delicious Bennett’s Fix-A-Drink

These self-explanatory Bennett’s Fix-A-Drink syrups were made in the 1950s and 60s. One of those snippets from Google Books (a 1954 Trade Practice Bulletin) says that Recipe Foods of Baltimore, which made Fix-A-Drink, was charged with “disparagement of competing brands” and “restraining trade.” The image on the right (link at the end) is from a 1955 promotional booklet.

There were 9 flavors of Fix-A-Drink: Pink Lemon, Strawberry, Fruit Punch, Orange, Black Cherry, Lemon-Lime, Grape, Black Raspberry and Root beer.

A 1962 ad I found was offering a 25 cents off coupon – which for 1962 was practically giving the stuff away, most coupons were for a few cents. The ad also mentioned that Bennett’s made chili sauce too which is maybe why they are so keen for everyone to use Fix-A-Drink syrup in everything besides drinks. Yes, be a
magician and put Bennett’s Fix-A-Drink into everything you cook!

I can understand the “cakes, cookies, pies, puddings.” The salads and salad dressings, maybe – maybe fruit salads. I wouldn’t, but I can imagine it. But meats? Vegetables?  Just no, Bennett’s. No and no again.

At the link below, you can see the rest of the Fix-A-Drink booklet, in which meat and vegetables meet their comeuppance with Bennett’s. For example, they suggest you slice “a tin of luncheon meat” and pour some Grape Fix-A-Drink over it and bake it. “Watch the family drool over this feast!” it says. Yeah, I’m sure. Or how about making some sauce for meatloaf with Lemon-Lime Fix-A-Drink? No, thanks. I’d really rather not. You don’t see old ads for Fizzies – I loved Fizzies! – suggesting you make a glass of Root Beer Fizzies (or is that Fizzie, in the singular? no idea) and put it in your next casserole, do you? I thought not.

photo credit: alsis35 (now at ipernity) via photopin cc

Victorian Hair Restoration

People in the Victorian era were worried about a lot of the same things we are worried about today, and one of those things is personal beauty. We all want to look good and feel good when we are going out and about, and our great grandparents were the same. Take, for example, hair care. There were as many hair care products as there are now – only, I think, the names were just so much better. More flamboyant and creative, like Bruceline, Ayer’s Hair Vigor and Hall’s Vegetable Sicilian Hair Renewer.

In the 19th century people had a few main hair concerns (again, like us) and the main worries were hair color and what was then called “falling hair” – i.e., thinning hair and/or going bald. And for those issues what you wanted were the hair restorers or renewers. Hair restorers – well, made your hair grow. And the renewers were supposed to to dye your hair as well as keep it from falling out.

Unfortunately many of them contained lead or nitrate of silver, which was not a bit safe. For example, I saw a report in an 1878 medical journal that referred to “partial paralysis”after using the Sicilian Hair Renewer. Of course this was years and years before you could go get a more lasting solution such as a Hair Transplant Philadelphia - so you were going to have to stick to putting things on your scalp and remaining hair – ideally, of course, the safer preparations.

One safer alternative might have been to make your own hair restorer. Here is a recipe from an 1869 book with the wonderful title Enquire Within About Everything (basically this was the only book you would ever need in your life). The author, Robert Kemp Philp, gives us his recipe for Liquid for the Cure and Prevention of Baldness, as follows: 2 ounces of eau de cologne, a good amount of “tincture of cantharides,” and some oils of rosemary, nutmeg and lavender.

Cantharides (or cantharadin) is a substance derived from dried, bright green blister beetles, of all things, and was used as a wart and hair treatment. It is also the main ingredient in Spanish fly, the old aphrodisiac. It is also poisonous. So I guess you might want to think before putting that on your head. Good thing hair transplantation is an option now, isn’t it?

A Piece of Lemon Meringue

Bad Postcards

Doesn’t that pie on the left look amazing? That is just how I like lemon meringue pie because I always think the meringue is the best part of it. I’ve never made one of these pies but I’ve had a special request for one so I will be giving it a try pretty soon. It is just the sort of pie to serve in the summer, maybe after a barbecue.

It is quite wonderful and I wish I could go to Lucille and Otley’s and have that pie. They were in Boynton Beach, Florida from 1948 to 1998 but this 1988 ad says they started in the town of Briny Breezes in 1935. Bad Postcards is one of my favorite Tumblrs, by the way, and I recommend that you check it out if you love retro postcards as much as I do.

So I got to wondering about when lemon meringue pie was first made. Lemon meringue pie seems to have been invented just after the Civil War – the first reference I found in a cookbook to it was from 1871. They also made Lemon Meringue Puddings back in the Victorian era, which were breadcrumb-based and baked, after which the meringue layer was added and you put the pudding back in the oven for a final browning.

Unfortunately in 1879 “several persons” ate lemon meringue pies from a bakery and were taken ill because the baker used a “cheap yellow dye” called “dinitro-naphthol.” One of the customers took the baker to court and was awarded $1000. The Chicago Medical Journal noted that “persons who are fond of lemon meringue pie, if they go by the verdict, must look out for dinitro-naphthol in their dessert.” It was reported in Boston in the same year that people were getting sick from verdigris poisoning – this time it was the meringue in their pies that was the culprit. All the more reason to bake your pies at home, back then.

The most interesting lemon meringue recipe i found isn’t a pie at all but a sort of summery trifle (I always think of trifle as strictly a winter, holiday dessert). It is from the wonderfully named cookbook, Par Excellence: A Manual of Cookery, created by the ladies of the Church of the Epiphany in Chicago in 1888.

To make this, you sliced up a large sponge cake and put it into a deep glass bowl. Then you poured a cup of warm milk over it. In a separate bowl you made up what sounds like a basic vanilla egg custard and cooked it until it was thick, then poured that over the cake. Finally you made a batch of meringue flavored with lemon extract (I think they mean juice extracted from the lemon, here) and lemon zest and put that on top. The recipe is here if you want to try it out.

But if you just want to make the classic pie like me, you can use this retro recipe from a 1957 Pillsbury ad.

The Will and the Mysterious Jewel Chest

In 1893 the Charlier family was in need of a legal translator, because when Madame Charlotte Roulez Charlier died in New Jersey in that year, she left about $50,000 and a “unique” will that no one, according to the New York Times, was able to understand. This may have been partly because the will was in French and needed a good translation, or because of other difficulties. The New York World reported that even 6 years after her death lawyers had not yet been able to “unravel” the will. She was described as a “fortune teller” by the papers, and some said that her large fortune had been earned by her clairvoyant career – though her family said that she only did this as an amusement, not for money. In any case, a legal translator would have been an excellent idea, because the estate was not settled for many years.

Wikimedia Commons

Her heirs were her children, two of whom lived in New Jersey and then there was her son, who nobody had seen for 20 years. He was in South America “in bondage,” said Madame’s will. She added that she had had a dream which predicted that this son would turn up in New Jersey 8 years later and claim his share of the inheritance. Unfortunately, it seems that he actually drowned when “his vessel, a sailing ship trading at South American ports, disappeared years ago and was never heard of again.”

What particularly intrigued me about her estate was the old chest filled with incredible jewels. The chest was brought over from Brussels when Madame came to America. The Buffalo Evening News reported that:

In it were found half a dozen rugs, several gold lockets, two boxes of rare Brussels lace, two gold watches, bracelets by the dozen, diamond earrings, amethyst and turquoise jewels, loose diamonds, rubies, pearls and other gems, gold and silverware, religious emblems, rosaries and medals, rich old shawls, silk handkerchiefs, and a piece of silk imported half a century ago, but never made up.

The chest also included the famous  diamond buckle that Madame said was made out of the hilt of a sword presented to her father, the Court Physician, by Louis XV. The buckle was made out of 26 large diamonds, was attached to a belt “inscribed with cabalistic characters [and] was supposed to give Madame prescience.” Dr Roulez’ “heavy gold medal” was in the chest, too, “for his part in the discovery of vaccination [sic].” The chest was put into a bank vault after “being brought by carriage to Elizabeth, [NJ].” I wonder what happened to it.

“Mme Charlier’s Will,” New York Times, Mar. 23, 1893.
“Anna Charlier, Heiress, Interviewed at Washtub,” New York World, Jun. 18, 1899.
“A Chest of Jewels,” Buffalo Evening News, Apr. 10, 1893.

His Favorite Hostess

Would you like to be popular with guys? Would you like to “get a big smile” every time he comes over to your house? Why, of course you would.

What you need to do is make him iced tea. Not just any old iced tea, but Ridgways.

Ridgways Tea, which is still in business, was founded by Thomas Ridgway in England in 1836. His tea shop in London was really popular and he even made a special tea for Queen Victoria. Whether he was Her Favorite Host is debatable, though. Probably not, because he didn’t serve it iced in vintage glasses.

Gold Label Tea, which is what the ad says you should be serving your gentleman callers, is orange pekoe (black) tea. It doesn’t look like Ridgways makes it any more, though.

The takeaway message? Iced tea. Serve men lots and lots of it. They will be so impressed and thrilled with their iced tea that they will like you a lot.

This got me wondering when people first started drinking iced tea. They were certainly drinking it by the 19th century. The earliest reference I found was in a cookbook called Domestic Economy, and Cookery, by a Lady, published in 1827. Here is her recipe for “Iced Tea, Coffee and Chocolate.” The Lady mysteriously includes egg yolks in her iced tea, which probably wouldn’t make her popular with gentlemen, or guests in general:

Make a pint of strong fine green or black tea; put it in two pints of cream, with six ounces of sugar and five yolks; thicken it over the fire, strain, and when cold, ice it.

An article in The Quarterly Review in 1842 mentions that people love iced drinks in Russia: iced wine, iced beer, “they even drink iced tea, substituting for a lump of sugar a lump of ice.” No egg yolks, though.

And in 1885, Gaillard’s Medical Journal was praising iced tea for soothing “a man of nervous temperament” who suffered from nerves and insomnia after a single cup of hot tea. When he downed a half gallon of iced tea before going to bed, he slept very well. Mind you, drinking half a gallon of anything right before bed is probably going to wake you up a few times during the night anyway. But at least you won’t be feeling nervous.

The Eleganza Universe

Sure, things happen when you wear Eleganza. But maybe you’d prefer they didn’t.

The sound of muffled snickering, for example, might happen when you stride by in your Dramatic DOUBLE Knit! yellow cardigan. Yeah, the guy in the ad hears something. He just can’t pinpoint what they’re laughing at. Couldn’t be the Burnished Gold tufted acetate sweater with a Durene front panel with attached mock turtleneck, of course.

Yes, this is the Cheater Top’s grandfather, stylin’ it up in – this looks like the late 60s/early 70s to me..

Then there’s the Double Breasted Walking Suit. It’s “California designed,” with its “long collar points” and its “specially processed 100% rayon.” That bright lime color is called “Bavarian Green” – I guess it sounds more eleganza than bright lime. Whether he’s wearing it “with pride and pleasure” I don’t know.

I really wish I could write for the Eleganza catalogue that this page is from, right now. Wouldn’t that be so great, to be able to send away for catalogues and magazine subscriptions from the past? And to order stuff, too. All the vintage items you want, at vintage prices! Really, modern science (or whoever) should get on this.

photo credit: mod as hell via photopin cc

A Not-So-Velvet Mitten

They still make these depilatory mitten things, and they still don’t work. I saw them for sale a few years ago, and they looked like they were made out of some kind of fine sandpaper, definitely not velvet.

This ad is from 1936. The Velvet Mitten Company was based in Los Angeles but I’ve seen ads from the 1930s for this in Canada and Australia as well as in the US/ The Canberra Times ran a little ad in 1935 that confidently stated that the Velvet Mitten was a “Hollywood Secret”:

The Film Stars must always look their best, and that  is why they have universally adopted the latest aid to Beauty – Velvet Mitten. Velvet Mitten Hair Remover is wholly mechanical in action and without chemicals. As simple to use as a powder puff.

That mechanical action was pretty rough, though. The 1933 ad in the Montreal Gazette notes that the Velvet Mitten “feels like velvet, yet has a sharpness and hardness similar to diamond dust.” Ouch. I think I’ll pass on this.