Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Malteds and Nickel Candy Bars: Part II

Going back for seconds of malteds is pretty easy.  Usually, when I have a craving for something malty, I make a glass of malted milk--there's always a jar of malted milk powder somewhere deep in my cupboards. It's solidified over the years, so I chisel out a couple of spoonfuls, and stir in some icy milk. 

The jar I have is Carnation brand--Horlicks, which we usually had when I was a kid, isn't easily available at my local stores.  Carnation's ingredient list is fairly short: Wheat flour and malted barley extracts (that's one thing?), milk, soy lecithin, salt, sodium bicarbonate.

View Malteds and Nickel Candy Bars in a larger map

Click on the map to find out what malted milk powder has to do with Antarctica.

William Horlick, a British émigré in Racine, Wisconsin patented malted milk powder in 1883. Originally, it was marketed as a nutritional supplement for infants and invalids.  They cleverly trademarked the name 'malted milk' after initially calling it 'diastoid'.  Catchy, no?  Can't you imagine climbing up on a stool at a soda fountain and saying "I'll have a chocolate diastoid, extra diastoidy"? 

In 1922, also in Racine, another émigré (Polish this time), Stephen Poplawski, patented the electric blender.  With it, more malt shops opened, and the familiar soda fountains in corner drugstores entered their heyday.

Enough background.  What if I want a real malted milkshake now?  It's been known to happen.  A couple of years ago, Blue Plate opened in Portland's handsome Dekum Building (1892).  Yesterday at 11 AM was the only time I could fit a malt in before writing this.  I wasn't at all in the mood (ice cream before noon seems as wrong as alcohol before noon), but duty called.

Blue Plate isn't a corner drugstore.  There are no comics carousels here (though there was an old two-volume set of the Gourmet cookbooks; everyone's got Gourmet on their mind).  But Abba Zaba bars (fun size) mingle with Big Hunks in a jar on the counter--the same kind that Tom used for oatmeal cookies.  Green stools line the counter, and there's a long list of milkshakes. And malteds.

But I rarely look at the menu.  I don't want to get sidetracked by things like the R.P. McMurphy, a butterscotch milkshake chock-full of toffee covered nuts.  I usually order a vanilla malted now. They just seem maltier than chocolate malteds.  Yesterday, I ordered it a little dutifully.  While I waited, I wondered if the bright orange and blue liquids in the cut glass decanters on the shelves behind the counter were some elixir, or simply decoration: colored water.

My malted--the one I hadn't craved--arrived, I removed the maraschino cherry (never did learn to like them) and took a sip.  One sip of the cold, achingly sweet malted, with the crunch of icy bits and crystalline malted powder, and I realized there was nothing I wanted more right then than that vanilla malted.

While I drank my malted, I thought about the vague ways Blue Plate is reminiscent of an era and place that I nearly missed.  The setting, in a part of downtown Portland that still looks much as it would have in the 1940s reminds me of Oakland in that era. Which is funny, since I wasn't even alive then. But Oakland (just south of where I grew up in Berkeley) changed slowly, and that 40's mood lingered in my early childhood, and always attracted me.

I was just finishing my vanilla malted when I overheard the man at the next table talking to the woman he was with (appropriately apologetic about the beginning of his question): "Are you old enough that there were still any old fashioned soda fountains when you were a kid?"

The question pleased me, and the answer was too good:

"I grew up in Hayward, and we used to go into Oakland to a soda fountain..."

Hayward, just south of Oakland.  Home of Annabelle Candy Company, the queen of the nickel candy bars.

I love it that a vanilla malted I didn't even think I wanted pulled me all the way back to the Bay Area of the 1940s. Even if I'd never been there in the first place.


Grace said...

"extra diastoidy" - hilarious! I could see maybe spinning it as an outer space thing...

At the Ko D'oooor cafe you could usually order a glass of ovomaltine, with steamed milk. That place was (is) amazing!

And the photo is perfection. They sure have the presentation of their shakes worked out: just barely overflowing. I am craving a Blueplate malted at this moment... if that picture didn't do it, your story did!

The romantic query letter and the happy-ever-after said...

I love this blog so much I can hardly stand it. You got me. You know there is something to be said of a passion expressed well, sadly I’m not the one to say it but I’ll say this, well done.
All the very best.

Giovanna said...

I forgot about Ovaltine. Seattle's Top Pot Doughnuts makes ovaltine caffe lattes that are pretty good.

And to 'The romantic query letter and the happy-ever-after', gosh, thank you. That was very nice.

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