Recalling foods of a bygone era - at home, around town

April 09, 2005|By JACQUES KELLY

I'LL NOW admit to fibbing a certain amount last week when I cataloged the array of foods my grandmother and her sister made from scratch.

True, what went on the table was the work of their hands. But there were food categories they enthusiastically purchased - most of them still being produced by small firms they came to know as children in 1890s Baltimore. What I am recalling is Baltimore of the 1960s when we almost took these lovely delicacies for granted. And in these days of culinary institute-trained chefs, who seem to copy each other's food excesses, I miss our local gourmet products.

Lily Rose, my grandmother, and her sister, great Aunt Cora, never made their own mayonnaise, although they always concocted their own delicious dressings. For special occasions, they preferred their mayonnaise made by the old Jordan Stabler firm, a business once located near the defunct Richmond Market.

It is hard to think of the old market precincts of upper Howard Street, near today's Meyerhoff Hall, as Baltimore's gourmet belt. It was. I was reminded last week of the Boone Elder wine company, the Independent Beef and Betty Patterson's bakery on Read Street, where the loaf cakes were small but tasty. They also liked the Woman's Industrial Exchange, the in-house bakeries at Hutzler's and Hochschild's and for their own sweets needs, there was always Maron's, the house of sweets that almond paste built.

The two sisters put bountiful dinners on the table, but never gave a thought to making their own ice cream. Why should they? Baltimore was a grown up town, and we had dazzling ice-cream makers here.

I think of three:

Mr. Franklin Fiske presided over a Park Avenue (northern Bolton Hill) operation so good that when I first made it to Vienna 30 years ago, I openly wondered what all the fancy dessert fuss there was about. Fiske's boxes were marked "caterer and confectioner," but that was putting it modestly. This was the house of fabulous water ices and ice cream; it was the bakery where my grandmother would trade when she wanted a cake for her own birthday and didn't feel like baking.

I'll never forget Fiske's signature ice cream - the harlequin block of chocolate, vanilla, pistachio and orange water ice. Mr. Fiske and his staff also made fancy molded figures and an ice cream cake so dense it once snapped a knife.

On Linden Avenue, behind the Richmond Market, sat Castleman Brothers - a medieval operation, dark and so unlike their potent, vanilla ice cream - dense and blindingly white. It would send you in orbit if accompanied by cut-up South Mountain peaches - or slathered with Marconi's chocolate sauce, where it was served for decades as the house ice cream.

The last ice cream was made by a little man I only knew as the ice cream maker. He worked on the second floor of the old Horn and Horn building on East Baltimore Street - and his ice cream went no farther than one floor below, where the people on the main floor of this incredible 1907 food hall dined. His ice cream, also redolent of fresh cream, had an amazing consistency - it was flecked by ice crystals.

I know there were other places that Lily and Cora liked, but some, like Doebereiner's, had passed before I had a chance to remember them - even if I did recently penetrate its boarded-up North Avenue emporium of cream and imagination. Judging by the remaining traces of Versailles-like mirrors, this must have been some operation.

Other families listed emergency phone numbers by a kitchen phone. We didn't. Our hot line numbers were for our ice cream vendors.

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