It isn’t often that history tastes this good, but that’s the case when the focus is on the Prohibition years, when the soda fountain took over what was once the neighborhood bar.

Rae Katherine Eighmey shows us the outcome in “Soda Shop Salvation: Recipes and Stories From the Sweeter Side of Prohibition” (Minnesota Historical Society Press, $17.95), which is published just as the Minnesota History Center opens its doors to a new exhibit, “American Spirits: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition.”

Ice cream defined the years following World War I (1919 to 1933), when the country was under the rule of no liquor. Eighmey’s book serves as a romp through history, with stories, newspaper references and advertisements from those years, along with recipes for beguiling ice cream drinks and treats.

She details the social and political reasons Prohibition won approval from Congress. The temperance movement (and Anti-Saloon League) had been persistent and effective in its cause. World War I had already put a crimp in the liquor industry as restrictions had been placed on all distilled spirits “made from any product that could be used for food.” Law-abiding citizens turned from dingy bars and shuttered pubs to the soda fountains — new, modern and clean — that served as welcoming gathering places.

“The soda fountain and its adjacent candy counter are the town pump, the tavern, the corner grocery, and the sewing circle of days gone by. The very fabric of our social and political life is woven here,” were the words of an editorial in the New York Evening Sun at the time.

A new industry

Soda fountains sprung up on every corner of towns and cities and competed with an increased array of ice cream novelties and sparkling concoctions. In Stillwater, the menus from two neighboring soda parlors (Starkel’s Pharmacy and St. Croix Drug Store) featured more than 150 items each.

The soda fountain era in United States was fast-paced and innocent. It was a time of “speak-easies, racy automobiles, newfangled devices, fluctuating economic conditions — for those who dined, and drank on the right side of the law — innovative beverages and exciting ice cream flavors, sundae varieties, and novelties, along with tasty luncheonette delights,” writes Eighmey.

The book’s ice cream recipes require an ice cream maker (a good excuse to put one on my Christmas list). There are recipes and ideas for syrups and fixings and virgin renditions of cocktail classics such as a Raspberry Rickey, Prohibition Sour and Jitney Julep.

A full chapter is devoted to the all-important sundae. Though this treat’s origin is disputed, historians agree its name comes from the laws forbidding the use of carbonated beverages on the Sabbath. Soda fountain owners replaced soda with syrup and toppings to create the sundae (changing its spelling out of respect for the holy day). The book’s last chapter provides recipes and stories from the era of the luncheonette, which overlapped Prohibition. Nut loaf, Boston fruit salad, ham salad, anyone?

“Soda Shop Salvation” is a sweet chronicle of our nation’s dry spell, a fine resource for easy refreshment and a delicious read. Much of the fun in this book comes from the names of soda fountain concoctions, from the Chocolate Flora Dora to the Flapper Frappé (recipes at right).


Beth Dooley is the author of “Minnesota’s Bounty” and “The Northern Heartland Kitchen.”