Old-fashioned soda

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Although I’m not a soda drinker, what a hoot to take the Avery Beverage tour, which includes making your own soda!

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Avery’s has been around since 1904, with founder Sherman Avery starting his operation when hundreds existed in Connecticut, 8 in New Britain alone.  Now the oldest surviving operation, Avery’s is sold around the U.S. and apparently in New Zealand.

2016-01-30 14.11.08The ‘factory’ is a simple one, still set up in the same barn from those early days.  The equipment only dates back to the 1950s, a heyday for soda making.  The method has stayed the same since then, too.

The equipment is jammed into one small room that comprises the factory.  The Bottle Sterilizer gives each bottle a sterilizing bath, which takes about 20 minutes.  Then the Bottling machine drops in 2 ounces of the sweetener, called syrup, with the Syruper.  The Filler machine fills each bottle with carbon dioxide, which makes the bubbles in your soda.  The Capper tops each bottle with a metal cap called the crown.  That’s it.  Not a complex process.  Even we could do it!

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So Will guided us up the steep stairs.




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Here’s where the syrup is made.  700 pounds of sugar added to well water, and you, too, can make 8000 bottles of soda.  A smaller tank is used for making batches of particular flavors, which is then gravity-fed through pipes to the first floor.


And oh what flavors they are.  You wouldn’t want to miss the Zombie Brain Juice, Dog 2016-01-30 14.04.34Drool, or Worm Ooze.  Well, maybe you would.  Those are the instant-cavity fruit drinks from the “Totally Gross Soda”  line.

Like me, you might gravitate more toward the Birch Beer, Root Beer, and Sarsaparilla.  Did you know that natural root of sarsaparilla is a carcinogen?  So artificial flavor is used, enhanced by star anise, just as root beer is flavored with vanilla, cloves, and other spices.

But such delights were literally not on the table for making our own.  Instead we maneuvered around the equipment on the sticky-sugar floor to blend our sodas with fruit flavors.

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One shot equals about an ounce, so each of us calculated the combinations to create up to 2 ounces.  One boy on our tour was proud to have made “Alien Snot”–yes another of those dreaded Totally Gross flavors.  It’s actually a combination of kiwi and blue-raspberry, which doesn’t sound gross at all (excepting the sugar content is about 1000% of the daily value).

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Putting on my Avery’s apron, ready for any spraying syrup





I stuck with the slightly tarter lemon and orange, with low quantites of syrup.  My outcome is more like a flavored seltzer.  The Virginia Darr extracts we used have been an Avery partner since 1905.  By the way, that’s how Cream Soda gets made–with vanilla extract.

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Virginia Darr extracts




So with our two ounces of syrup in the bottom of the bottles, all were crated back downstairs to the bottling machine.


Here’s a video of the filling and capping, after our exuberant countdown.

Then cold off the line:

The color combinations are so festive, aren’t they?  You may notice that in some of the bottles, the colorful syrup is at the bottom of the bottle.  Our last task was to flip the bottles three times to blend, and voila!  We have soda!

We wrapped with what Will calls “quality control testing.”  You got it, a taste test.  It’s a fizz!

The answer is 62,348.  This was calculated by weight, going on 141 caps to the pound!

The answer is 62,348. This was calculated by weight, going on 141 caps to the pound!

Avery's Lost & Found - stuff found in with the returned empties in the last 10 years

Avery’s Lost & Found – stuff  mixed in with the returned empties over the last 10 years

Bottle cap art: A for Avery's

Bottle cap art: A for Avery’s

The hand-mixed sodas back home

The hand-mixed sodas back home

The weight part is off...

Fun, old stuff at Avery’s.  The weight part is off…

...hopefully, the fate part is not!

…hopefully, the fate part is not!

The Irish Problem

Refugees fleeing untenable situations at home.  That heartbreaking reality seems to recur with uneasy frequency, but I had never made the connection between the Holocaust and the Great Famine in Ireland that lasted from 1845-1852.  But Murray Lender, of Lender’s Bagels and a New Haven native, did.


Low ceilings and wood planks meant to mimic steerage

He funded the Quinnipiac University collection of materials and art about the famine, which after collection growth, opened in a new home three years ago.

Even the building tells the story.  The exterior is meant to resemble the stone-faced hovels the Irish lived in, and the first floor exudes the cramped feeling of steerage on the ships coming to New York.  Only the upstairs, which references a ship’s topside, has high ceilings and windows.

Alexander Williams. Cottage, Achill Island. The museum facade resembles a stone cottage.

Ireland’s Great Hunger Museum presents the painful facts of the famine and now has an exhibition of Daniel Macdonald’s paintings.  The show features a rare depiction of the famine by any artist during the Great Hunger itself.

Daniel Macdonald. An Irish peasant family discovering the blight of their store. 1847.

The painting shows the severe distress of a family that has discovered that their storage pit has been ravaged by the fungus that rots the potato, killing it from the inside out.  When an average man ate 12 to 14 pounds of potatoes per day (perhaps supplemented with some buttermilk and herring) and the usually hearty crop could last a family for almost a year after working an acre, the blight was devastating.

Macdonald otherwise made fairly ordinary scenes of angelic children, dances, and fairies.  But the Great Hunger that ravaged his people compelled him to make this painting when not only was Realism of everyday people considered unworthy of fine art, but his principal patrons in London would be repulsed by the subject.

The English condescended to most of their colonists, but perhaps none took it quite so hard on the chin as the Irish.  During this famine, unbelievably, Irish food was still being exported to England.  Absentee landlords raised rents so that subsistence, potato-reliant tenants could no longer afford to stay.  The landlords converted their lands to pasture for the more lucrative grazing of cattle.

For those who had nowhere else to go, they dug pits called scalps, roughly covered with a roof of sticks.  Others hit the road.  Who cared if eviction essentially meant death for the poor family?

Daniel Macdonald. Eviction. Crawford Art Gallery, Cork City.

Racist attitudes that relied on stereotypes of the Irish as lazy wastrels justified the lack of action; these evicted families didn’t deserve aid.  It was the Irish Problem, and the British government responded with “systematic neglect.”

Some charity existed.  The workhouse, where 750,000 displaced and homeless families crowded together, fomenting deadly disease.  Many more were on the waiting list.  Three million a day went to soup kitchens run by Quakers.  Other Protestants exchanged soup for conversion.

So you can imagine why emigration appeared to be the only reasonable action.  Two million left Ireland, some stymied by disease before and during the crossing.  Along with the one million who starved or died on the roads, the population of Ireland was decimated and has never recovered to the pre-famine levels.

But the Irish fighting spirit has been there, too.  Emasculated by British imperialism, Irish men long acted out, through rebellious acts and fighting, often spurred on by alcohol.  Factions formed and ritualized fights both were glorified and were killers.  Here’s Macdonald’s heroic take.

Daniel Macdonald. The Fighter. 1844.

The poignant film at the museum suggests how the Irish spirit still bears the wound of the Great Hunger.

Kieran Touhy. Thank you to the Choctaw. 2005

Kieran Touhy. Thank you to the Choctaw. 2005


How ironic that 16 years after their own forced removal to Oklahoma, the Choctaw Native American tribe in 1847 raised $170, sent to Ireland for famine relief.

This moving tribute to that extraordinary act of generosity is in the museum’s contemporary art gallery.

The modern painting below by Lillian Lucy Davidson captures the alienation and grief still felt a hundred years after the Great Famine.


Lilian Lucy Davidson. Horta. 1946.









I understand this ongoing wound.  For me, the Holocaust still seems close.  The Somali’s and now the Syrian’s remind us that the world, or more accurately, human nature doesn’t seem to change.  Painful.


Could be Anatevka…

Dead Wake

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Having just finished Eric Larson’s Dead Wake about the sinking of the Lusitania by a German U-Boat, I got interested in visiting the Submarine Museum in Groton, CT.  Naturally, I arrived when part of the museum, including the actual submarine were closed off due to a Change-of-Command ceremony.

After heading to a local diner, eloquently called The Shack and packed for lunch, I was able to come back and have the full sub experience.  No, I didn’t have a sub for lunch, although that would have been poetic.

    The tallest point of a sub

The tallest point of a sub

The film told the history of submarines in the U.S., starting in 1900, when the Navy bought a sub from Holland for $150,000 (This ignores the historic submarine written about previously in this blog).  In 1905, Teddy Roosevelt took a 3-hour trip on the second U.S. sub, leaving from his home in Oyster Bay and sailing around Long Island Sound.  He declared it “fun.”  I say, “bully!”

Over time, safety became a priority, with the shift to diesel power from gasoline with its danger of asphyxiation and engineering improvements–angle of diving, the rotating and retracting periscope, and the control room.

But life on subs was woefully hard.  Called ‘pig boats’, subs were basically ‘glorified sewer pipes’ that were cramped, dirty, and smelly.  Little water was available, so no one could bathe or brush their teeth.

One drunk sailor returning from shore leave had a skunk on a leash and apparently argued with the on-board duty officer that the potential smell was no worse than the existing, and everyone would get used to it.  I don’t know the outcome–if Pepe le Pew became a submarine pet–but I bet not.

(Overall, it probably helps to be a man.  I sure couldn’t do it.)

After Pearl Harbor, the US Navy was able to enter the game of war quickly because the submarines were spared.  Within days, unrestricted sub warfare was engaged, with US subs sinking Japanese ships.  Interesting that among the visitors at the museum were Japanese tourists.

Subs continued to play a big part in the Navy through the Cold War.  We “hounded the Soviet Navy,” one captain declared.

On board the Nautilus

On board the Nautilus

The real reason to go to the museum is to board and crawl around in the Nautilus, the nuclear power sub.  I followed a bow-tied, curly hair, bespectacled man with two children.  He explained each thing to them, in terms I could understand, so I didn’t even have to listen to the audio tour.  Apparently, he had worked on a nuclear sub!

The stairways are really, really narrow and the steps very steep.  Discovery number 1: you have to be skinny to work on the sub.

Step way up and duck at the same time

Step way up and duck at the same time




The bunk beds–8 to a closet–are teensy.  Discovery number 2: it helps to be short if you work on a sub.

The hatch opening between areas are kept small, so not only do you have to duck, but you also have to step over the the bottom of the opening to the next compartment–probably about 2 1/2 feet high.  Discovery number 3:  you have to be agile to work on a sub.

Do you qualify?  I, for one, was plenty ready to climb those steep stairs back to the deck.  Clearly, I’m not built for sub life.

The commodious officer's dining room

The commodious officer’s dining room

8 bunks, 4 on each side

8 bunks, 4 on each side

The facilities

Better accommodations

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This electric submarine resembles a whale

This electric submarine resembles a toy whale

Historic Pie

Screen Shot 2016-01-10 at 12.56.49 PMRobert Cox has gone where no man has gone before…well, that’s probably not true.  But he’s done it well, compiling a history of pie in his book New England PieI had the delectable pleasure of hearing him roll the dough at the New Haven Museum.

Affection for pie came from England. Makes sense.

But in New England, pies as we know them weren’t eaten until the 18th century.  Why the delay?  That has to do with the formation and function of pie.  Yeah, really.  The function wasn’t to relish the deliciousness of pie as we know it.

Instead, flour and water were mixed together to make a thick pastry boat, if you will, for cooking your contents.  You know, your squash, your rhubarb, your poultry.  The flour-water mixture made a tough, impermeable shell that worked well in the wood fire, but also was easy to move around.  So it was your cooking dish, serving dish, and potluck transportation, all in one.

The third crust on top?  That kept out insects and crows.  Useful.  Plus keeping air out of the contents of the interior meant you had your Colonial Tupperware, storing contents and even preserving them against rot.  Who needs a refrigerator?

In the early 18th century, butter and lard were added to the flour-water mixture, and something really, really good emerged.  Pie.

The fillings however, were different than today’s pie.   No blueberry pie then.  Blueberries weren’t domesticated until the 1920s.  Instead your Colonial pie likely mixed savory and sweet, with sugar, spices, and  herbs, all together.  The result was a ‘high style’ pie in the 1690s.  The Puritans, whose austerity included rejecting bodily pleasures and presumably delicious foods, then started to lose their power over pie.

The battle of the crust began.  By 1796, Amelia Simmons wrote the first American cookbook by an American, published in Hartford.  The cookbook featured nine different crusts.

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Shepherd’s Pie

Plus there were false pies and mock pies.  What?  Those aren’t the same?  Oh no!

False pies include shepherd’s pie, also called a cottage pie.  Lots of potatoes, mashed in a crust.  Your Maine-inspired Whoopie Pie is false, as is the Washington pie.

GW Pie


How did George Washington inspire this pie?  The Parker House Hotel‘s celebrity chef named this pie, although it’s actually sponge cake with raspberry or strawberry jam and powdered sugar on top.  Another version of this pie, with cream and chocolate is the Boston cream pie, another falsie.  In 1824, when Lafayette made his triumphal return to the United States,  he got a pie named for him that’s similar to his friend and mentor Washington’s treat.

Trivia:  at the Parker House Hotel, Ho Chi Minh worked in the kitchen, and Malcolm X was a busboy.  Between them and the GW Pie, something there sparked revolutionary spirit!

Mock pies refer to a ‘culinary mockery.’  Mock turtle soup does have turtle in it.  Mock apple pie?  You guessed it.  No apples.  Before our supermarkets made produce available year-round, pie makers had to content themselves with seasonal everything.  Ritz crackers to the rescue!  Add lemon, butter, and cream of tartar, and you get a taste like apples…  Really?  Don’t take Cox’s word for it.   See below for Corporate America’s recipe.

You can also make mock cherry pie with the more readily available cranberries.  Appearing in an 1890 Chicago cookbook, mock cherry pie took off!  Just add lots of sugar and vanilla.

Women competed to make the best pies, the best crusts, at fairs and beyond, as well as for recognition of their economy, during wartime and beyond.  Mock was the real deal.

Until freezers and processed foods.  You know, our world today.  In New England, the classic pie is simple, heightening its purity.  Simple ingredients, harmonious combinations. Really?  No.

Mince pie

The classic mince pies were a collision of the proverbial kitchen sink–cranberries, rhubarb, chicken, turkey, whatever you had, all in one pie.  That was culinary high taste.  So even the idea of the classic New England pie is a delicious myth.

But really, who cares?  Enjoy!

And in case you’re daring, here’s the promised recipe:

Ritz Mock Apple Pie
The classic pie, featuring Ritz crackers baked in a golden crust,
is perfect for the holidays.

Pastry for two-crust 9-inch pie
36 RITZ Crackers, coarsely broken (about 1 3/4 cups crumbs)
1 3/4 cups water
2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons cream of tartar
2 tablespoons lemon juice
Grated peel of one lemon
2 tablespoons margarine or butter
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1. Roll out half the pastry and line a 9-inch pie plate. Place
cracker crumbs in prepared crust; set aside.

2. Heat water, sugar and cream of tartar to a boil in saucepan
over high heat; simmer for 15 minutes. Add lemon juice and peel;

3. Pour syrup over cracker crumbs. Dot with margarine or butter;
sprinkle with cinnamon. Roll out remaining pastry; place over pie.
Trim, seal and flute edges. Slit top crust to allow steam to escape.

4. Bake at 425 F for 30 to 35 minutes or until crust is crisp
and golden. Cool completely.

Makes 10 servings

413 calories, 3 g protein, 63 g carbohydrate, 17 g total fat,
3 g saturated fat, 339 mg sodium, 0 g dietary fiber.

Preparation Time: 45 mins.
Cook Time: 30 mins.
Cooling Time: 3 hrs.
Total Time: 4 hrs. 15 mins.


Beautiful things of late

Winter sensations all around.

The print show at the Yale University Art Gallery contains so much stunning beauty, and for me, a major revelation: Mortimer Menpes, the Australian who made a big career in London. Look at how the light and lines make the water ripple and sway around the piers.

Mortimer Menpes, A Narrow Canal, Vencie, 1912-3

Mortimer Menpes, A Narrow Canal, Vencie, 1912-3

In the age of the Grand Tour, his prints and paintings were wildly popular.

    Mortimer Menpes, The Piazza of St. Mark, Venice, 1910-11

Mortimer Menpes, The Piazza of St. Mark, Venice, 1910-11

The man himself…

Mortimer Menpes, Self portrait, 1916–17

Prints are all about loving the details.  As is high fashion.  The current Downton-Abbey inspired exhibit “From High Collars to Bees Knees” at Connecticut Historical Society is wondrous in the details.

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The 1920s changed the silhouette to simple, straight lines for very thin women.  Connecticut’s Cheney Mills brought French fashion sense to the state, with their fabrics manufactured in Manchester.

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Simple rhinestone embellishments and fresh-as-a-garden fabric.

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How nice for some winter beauty!