Life Before Latte


Consider life pre-Starbucks. (Yes, there really was such a thing.) Curiously, coffee found its way into millions of hearts and homes unaided by the trendy coffee-bar empire.

We are indebted instead to Ethiopia, where the coffee bean was first cultivated more than 1,000 years ago, and Yemen, where it was first brewed as a beverage. Exactly when and how this happened has been the subject of much debate. One version was recounted in a Times article in the women's pages on June 13, 1951 under the headline "History of Coffee Hazy; Future Sure."

Coffee cost about 87 cents a pound in 1951 (that's about $5.75 adjusted for inflation--and we're not talking about fancy roasts, either). Americans consumed about 16 1/2 pounds of the rich, dark stuff--more than cheese (7.2 pounds) and more than dried beans (8.1 pounds), though a close second to ice cream (17.4 pounds).

The story also offered several recipes incorporating the "pleasant beverage." The two that follow here--for a Coffee Sundae and Coffee Bavarian Cream--will provide modern coffee-lovers with a taste of two charming, old-fashioned desserts.

Coffee Sundae

Active Work Time: 10 minutes * Total Preparation Time: 15 minutes

This is a nice alternative to the familiar hot fudge sundae. It is sweet and soothing, and the coffee adds grown-up flavor to this childhood treat.

1 cup light brown sugar, packed

1 tablespoon cornstarch

1 cup strong coffee

1/4 cup light corn syrup

1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter

Vanilla ice cream

Chopped pecans and walnuts

* Combine sugar and cornstarch in saucepan. Stir in coffee and corn syrup, and bring to boil over medium-high heat, about 3 minutes. Boil 2 minutes. Stir in butter. Skim off foam.

* Serve hot over ice cream or chill and top ice cream. Sprinkle sundae with nuts.

7 (1/4-cup) servings. Each serving, syrup only: Each serving: 172 calories; 87 mg sodium; 18 mg cholesterol; 7 grams fat; 30 grams carbohydrates; 0 protein; 0 gram fiber.

Coffee Bavarian Cream

Active Work Time: 20 minutes * Total Preparation Time: 45 minutes plus 3 hours chilling time

The stiffly beaten egg whites give it a soft, meringue-like texture. In fact, it goes down as deliciously smooth and silky as any Frappuccino.

2 cups milk

1/2 cup ground coffee

1 tablespoon unflavored gelatin

1/4 cup cold water

1/2 cup sugar

1/8 teaspoon salt

2 egg yolks, lightly beaten

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 egg whites, beaten to stiff peaks

1/2 cup cream, whipped

Whole strawberies, for garnish

Maraschino cherries, for garnish

* Bring milk to scalding point in top of double boiler until small bubbles form around edge of pot, 5 to 7 minutes. Stir in coffee and cover. Let stand 20 minutes.

* Soften gelatin in cold water and let stand 5 minutes. Strain coffee-milk mixture through two thicknesses of wet cheesecloth. Add to gelatin and stir until dissolved, 1 to 2 minutes.

* Add sugar and salt to slightly beaten egg yolks, and gradually stir into hot mixture. Cool by setting in mixing bowl in larger bowl filled with cold water 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Chill in refrigerator until syrupy, 1 hour.

* Add vanilla extract and fold thoroughly into the stiffly beaten egg whites. Fold in whipped cream. Pour mixture into sherbet glasses and chill until set, 2 hours.

* Serve garnished with unhulled strawberries or maraschino cherries.

6 to 8 servings. Each of 8 servings: 131 calories; 89 mg sodium; 83 mg cholesterol; 5 grams fat; 16 grams carbohydrates; 5 grams protein; 0 fiber.

Note: Although many recipes call for uncooked eggs, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has found them to be a potential carrier of food-borne illness and recommends avoiding raw eggs.

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