This posting is a continuation of 56a-Serrapede Family in America-A Depression Era Childhood-Little Treats, Part 1 in which we retold the family stories and memories Emily shared with us over the years.
This posting continues adds some photos of the treats and vendors mentioned in Part 1. It concludes with Uncle Sammy and I sharing memories of our favorite childhood treats.
Memories of Sweet Times with Charlie Roose
Josie enjoyed little treats every so often. She didn’t need a reason to do indulge so long as there was extra money available. Often these little treats came when Josie and Emily were out for a walk on 13th Avenue. Emily remembers the site of a baker or vendor selling a sweet kind of sponge cake with a high tower of whipped cream. She called them “Charlie Roose”. It was something she enjoyed so much she didn’t know what part to have first. Sometimes she worked through all the whipped cream and then had the cherry before eating the little piece of cake at the bottom of the cup. Other times she just had the cherry first and then worked her way through the whipped cream to the cake. If she ate too fast Josie would tell her to be careful so as not to dirty her clothes.
What Emily pronounced as “Charlie Roose” were actually called Charlotte Russe. The original recipe developed in Europe during the 18th century and was considered a very elegant dessert. The main ingredients were a light sponge cake with a layer of fruit or jam topped with a towering swirl of whipped cream. In France the recipe was named Charlotte Russe. It gained popularity in New York City during the early 20th century, especially because in its simplified form it consisted of a small piece of cake topped with whipped cream and a maraschino cherry on top. Bakeries could use fresh sponge or one that was not so fresh. The Charlotte Russe was widely available in bakeries or through vendors selling them on the street.
During the days when Emily grew up, Charlotte Rousse was a winter time treat because cold temperatures kept the whipped cream from going bad. In 1982 Mimi Sheraton, writing in the New York Times, describes her delight at locating a bakery in New York’s West Village that still made Charlotte Rousse. She remembered that they originally cost from 5 to 7 cents.
Once popular throughout Manhattan and the boroughs, today very few bakeries make them. In 2012 Leah Koenig wrote about Charlotte Rousse for “Politico”. In her search she located only one bakery that still makes them. Holterman’s Bakery in Staten Island sold about 48 Charlotte Rousse a week in 2012. At that time the owners were not sure they would continue to make them.
Memories of Cold Weather and Hot Potatoes
After picking Emily up from school, Josie would take her for a walk on 13th Avenue to buy any foods she needed for the next day’s meal. When the weather was very cold she bought Emily a hot, baked sweet potato from a street vendor. This was a hearty after school treat that quickly alleviated those after school cravings for a snack.
Sweet potatoes sold on the streets were baked inside of coal fired ovens. These small ovens were on wheels which made it easy for a vendor to move around to the busiest locations. At his blog the late author Abraham Rothberg, shared many fond memories of eating hot potatoes on the street during the winter months. Abraham was born and raised in Brooklyn. His family could not afford to buy sweet potatoes, so he took some white Long Island potatoes from home and baked them over a fire he and his friends would make to keep warm. He also remembers the roasted chestnuts that many sweet potato vendors sold. The vendors wrapped the chestnuts and sweet potatoes in few sheets of newspaper so they could be handled. As they were held hands and face were also warmed.