No, not that Doc Brown
Updated: Apr 14
Celery is about as sexy as an erectile dysfunction commercial so who would have thought that it would replace the Acai Berry as today’s super food. Thanks to a few
celebrities, IG influencers and even a famous physic medium, celery juice is now all the rage. It’s surprising to me that the same limp green stalk that I had to camouflage with peanut butter and raisins just to swallow is the new “it” veggie, but it turns out that this isn’t celery’s first time in the limelight.
According to Wikipedia, which means it has to be true, in the late 1800’s celery was the third most popular item on New York City restaurant menus, even more expensive than caviar. At the time, it was lauded for its healing abilities and medicinal benefits. So much so, that in 1869, the Schoneberger & Noble soda company created a celery flavored tonic and sold it as a therapeutic under the clever brand name Dr. Brown’s. Thanks to a little nudge from the FDA, the name was later changed to Cel-Ray soda. The bubbly palate can be best described as sweet with a hint of celery seed that doesn’t taste much different than ginger ale.
Soda salesman sold the product door to door and because it was Kosher, Cel-Ray’s popularity quickly grew within the Lower East Side and other Jewish populated neighborhoods throughout Brooklyn and Manhattan. Well over a century later, you are just as likely to see a can of Cel-Ray on a city Jewish deli's menu as you are to eyeball a bowl of Matzo Ball Soup. Me?, I prefer my Cel-Ray paired with an everything bagel, smoked nova and a schmear of scallion cream cheese from Russ & Daughters.
While the brand has remained alive within the five boroughs and a few other American Jewish neighborhoods, it remains little known to the rest of the country. Whether or not there really was a Doctor Brown is up for debate and chances are he wasn't a crazy wild eyed scientist with cool hair but can we really be sure?? But there is no debating that drinking any of the six varieties of Dr. Brown’s soda will immediately transport you back in time to turn-of-the-century New York City, no DeLorean needed.
Other Dr. Brown flavors include Cream Soda, Black Cherry, Orange, Ginger Ale and Root Beer and pay attention to the can, as each flavor has its own classic NYC landmark illustrated by Avant Garde artist Herb Lubalin.
For some adult fun this spring, substitute some Dr. Brown’s Cel-Ray soda in your Favorite Gin Collins Cocktail:
Cel- Ray Collins Recipe
2 ounces London Dry Gin
½ Small Lime (cut in wedges)
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
Celery Stalk for Garnish
In a Cocktail shaker, add sugar, lemon and leaves from celery stalk. Muddle until sugar is dissolved. Add gin, ice and shake it like a Polaroid picture - Strain into a Collins Glass, finish with a gentle pour of Cel-Ray, a few dashes of botanical bitters and the stalk to garnish.
Check out my contribution to fellow indigenous food blog eatyourworld.com