June 13, 2013
I think the love of seltzer is passed down from father to son.
Seltzer, just the word "seltzer" puts a smile on my dad's face. He will never refuse a spritz. And neither will I. I have a bottle on my desk as I write this. I don't care how fancy-shmancy the dinner party, I always have bottles on the table. And not Pelligrino, not Perrier, not Crystal Geyser, not even Soda Club-- I mean, seltzer.
Seltzer is carbonated water under pressure, delivered through a siphon. It tastes fresher and keeps longer than the bottled stuff. Open a bottle of Pelligrino, and if you don't finish it all at once, after a day or two it starts to fade and flatten. But a seltzer bottle holds in the spritz for weeks if not months. It's always ready to go, a gun that's always cocked and loaded. Manly, yes.
When Naomi and I married, one of our first gifts to ourselves was seltzer home delivery. I found a man named Julian Diamond who ran a family business, A-1 Seltzer and Beverage, out of a a warehouse in North Holywood. He was 74 years-old, and delivered the stuff in the original glass bottles.
"If you drop them," Julian told me, "They'll go off like a bomb."
When we had kids, we switched to the plastic version. It was one of the hardest things about having kids.
Julian was brusque-- he still humped these heavy wood crates all over LA. I thought I was doing him a favor when I assigned a reporter at the Jewish Journal, Leilah Bernstein, to do a story on him.
"In the first half of the 20th century, Diamond remembers, there were at least 500 bottling companies in the area," Leilah wrote. "The 1920s and 1930s were the industry's heyday. By mid-century, however, just a handful of seltzer bottling companies remained here, including Arrowhead, Sparkletts and Shasta."
Julian was the last of the seltzer men. After it ran I called him expecting to collect some gratitude.
"It's awful," Julian told me. "I'm getting all these calls. Too much work. I'm tired."
When Julian died, an employee took over the business. His name is Joe.
Joe brings cases of fresh seltzer to our door whenever we need it. It’s old school. I’ll be in a meeting, my cell phone will ring, and I’ll look down and see the ID: Joe Seltzer. I call back, and Joe greets me like a grand prize winner.
“Mr Robert! How many cases you need?!”
I always feel like Joe is disappointed with my rate of consumption, as if real men drink more seltzer.
“Two," I say.
When I was growing up, we had a milk man deliver milk bottles, a fruit man who came by and honked his truck horn, and my favorite, the Helms Bakery man, who stopped, opened the panels of his truck, and reveal rows of fresh bear claws and donuts and warm bread—and always gave the kids a sparkle cookie.
These were holdovers from a different era, and their presence in the sterile surburban streets of Encino, with Gelsons and Ralphs just a few blocks away, always felt out of place, like they drove in not just from a different neighborhood, but from a different dimension. Sometimes the way food comes to us is as important as the food itself. Those old-fashioned delievery men didn't just bring food, they connected communities.
Today all we have is Joe the Seltzer Man.
Of course, a few months after Joe started delivering to us, my father called. He had been to the house the night before for dinner.
"I need the name of your Seltzer Man," my father said.
As much as I love the seltzer, which is still a hit at every dinner party, I also like the connection it represents, through my father, back to my grandfathers, and their fathers-- generation after generation of Jewish men who sought comfort in the bottle.
This Sunday I'll spritz a bit in a glass and raise a toast: "Happy Father's Day."
Limonana is the Israeli mint-lemon slush. I use lemon verbena instead of mint (you can use either), and finish it with a spritz of selzter.
Lemon Verbena Limonana
This is more delicate than the usual limonana made with mint.
½ c. freshly squeezed lemon juice
Place all ingerdients except seltzer in a blender and whir until smooth. Pour into a glass and top with a seltzer blast. Stir and serve.
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