Russian diplomat Count Karl Nesselrode, after whom a fountain syrup was named.
Soda fountain culture fascinates me. It reached its height during Prohibition when non-alcoholic drinks were the only option. Cincinnati was flooded with them and their legacy still exists in our beloved Aglamesis and Graeters Ice Cream Parlours, where you can still order a nectar or a raspberry phosphate at the counter.
So, when I received the 1910 recipe book of one of Cincinnati’s beloved soda fountains from an descendant, I was ecstatic. I only had to flip a few pages to find names of syrups of which I’d never heard. When I found the Nesselrode syrup recipe I knew I had found my new bff.
The recipe book was from Mullane’s – a Cincinnati candy company that was in business for over 140 years. In addition to candy, they had restaurants and soda fountains, where corseted and coiffed ladies served an extensive menu of ice cream drinks and sundaes. They had over 30 different bousemade syryps from the common, like raspberry, to the bizarre -a beef tea flavor. We think our generation invented the savory dessert! “Meet me at Mullane’s” was a common phrase amongst locals when spending a day of shopping downtown.
What struck me about the components of the Nesselrode syrup in the recipe book was its complexity. The syrup consisted of a slurry of candied pineapple, Maraschino cherries, glace marron (what they called candied chestnuts back then), and rum flavoring.
An ad from at 1915 Confectioner and Bakers’ Gazette promoting candied chestnuts (glace marrons) for Nesselrode confections.
So that was the makeup, but I had to get to the bottom of its weird name -which had nothing to do with its components. Apparently there was a whole line of Nesselrode desserts named after a Russian diplomat of the mid 1800s named Count Karl Nesselrode, which were super popular duing the Victorian era. There were Nesselrode puddings , cakes and pies. And, they all included candied chestnuts, liquor (rum or brandy) and a mix of candied fruit, which normally included cherries.
Why and who named the syrup after this obscure Russian diplomat seems to be lost to history. He was secretary of state in Russia in 1814 and for 40 years guided Russian policy and served as a conservative statesman to his native land. One of his actions that would have made him unpopular with Cincinnati’s Germanic community was that he sent troops in 1849 to quell the rebellion of locally popular Kossuth, for whom we have streets named here, and in Columbus’ German Village. Kossuth actually spoke to a packed and adoring crowd at the Cincinnati Turnhall on Walnut Street in Over-the-Rhine, after fleeing the Revolution.
For whatever reason Nesselrode sundaes dropped out of favor and out of memory. Maybe it was the expense or unpopularity of chestnuts in America. But in the 1930s, the Nesselrode pie was brought back by Spier in a restaurant on New York’s Upper West Side. It was a lighter, fluffier version of the dense Victorian era dessert, and it was topped with chocolate. The pie became popular across America in the 1950s and 1960s, and then dropped off the map again.
Maybe Graeters or Aglamesis should consider bringing it back to the soda fountain to see how if our current palates agree.