By Jennifer Scerra
“What on earth is a Rubyette?” you wonder out loud, while reading a recipe from your vintage entertaining cookbook. “Or an Emrelette? An Or-o-ette?”
“THEY ARE GEMS OF FLAVOR!” comes a booming voice from the void.
“WHAT?!” you cry.
But there is no answer…only the faint smell of mint in the air.
It is difficult to find much about Rubyettes that’s been written in the past 60 years. Produced by the Rubyette Company of San Francisco along with their sister products Emrelettes and Oroettes, Rubyettes are a vanished food.
The halo of their existence is witnessed mostly in newspaper advertisements and recipes written for holidays and luncheons. But as a Canadian journalist complains, they are “another thing I have never been able to find since the war…” She wrote this in 1964, presumably about World War II, which ended almost 20 years earlier (which itself is 10 years after newspaper advertisements peter out for the Rubyette). So, what is it about them, with their brief but bright existence, that makes people reminisce years later about how nice they would be in a “frozen log salad”?
Huh?! So yes, they are basically mock maraschino cherries, made from peeled grapes, available in three flavors and colors. Fancy.
We are lucky that someone in Santa Cruz in 1927 thought them an exciting enough innovation to write briefly about their development by local dentist Dr. Arnold R. Steinwand. He apparently came upon the idea while experimenting with Thompson seedless grapes and sugared syrup and thought them a convenient and economical alternative for use in desserts and fruit salads.
Not mentioned in the article is Dr. Steinwand’s older brother Otto. Though the timeline of his employment is not clear, census documents indicate that Otto Steinwand worked first on his parents’ fruit farm in Fresno, California, and then as a food chemist. He had also been taking out patents related to commercial fruit processing since at least 1925. (see patents 1544282, 172192, 1700861, 1991033, 2274874, 2326407, and 2407801 ) The patents were alternately filed under Otto Steinwand’s name alone (1925, 1935, 1946), assignor to the Rubyette Co. (1929), or assignor to S&W Fine Foods (1928, 1942, 1943). S&W also owned the trademark for the name Rubyette for a time. I found them listed as the parent company in 1952 and they may well have owned the brand even earlier.
So, does this mean S&W bought the Rubyette Company, formerly run by Otto Steinwand? I’m not sure, especially since nothing I’ve found ever calls Otto an owner. But somehow or another Otto Steinwand went to S&W and the name Rubyette went also, before fading to obscurity…
But wait! What if you, owner of a historic cookbook containing recipes for molded fruit salads and rubyettte cream cheese sandwiches want to make an authentic version of the recipe?! What if you, like that Canadian journalist, would like a taste of things before World War II reset life as people knew it?!
I’m glad you asked.
Between me and my coworkers (thanks Gennie!) we found three recipes for mock rubyettes printed in newspapers in later decades by people who also missed having those little gems of flavor available in their grocery store. Everyone seems quite certain that you need Thompson seedless grapes, sugar syrup, and food coloring. Everything else is more negotiable.
Because I wanted these to be as similar as possible to the original Rubyettes, Emrelettes, and Oroettes, (and also because I am a simple soul, looking for a simple solution) I adapted a version of the recipe that hopefully captures most of the important qualities of flavor, texture and color while being very easy to make.
Mock Rubyettes (Emrelettes or Oroettes)
- 2 cups (just under 1lb) green seedless grapes, removed from stems
- ¾ cup flavored syrup (I used Torani brand Raspberry for the red Rubyettes, Creme de Menthe for the green Emrelettes, and Orange and Pineapple mixed together for the orange Oroettes)
- A few drops of food coloring, optional (if your syrup is colorless or needs a color boost)
- Peel the grapes. This is the most tedious step. Boil some water and prepare another bowl filled with ice water. Using a strainer or a slotted spoon, dip your grapes in the boiling water for about 20 seconds. Stop the cooking by plunging the grapes into cold water. Then peel the skin from the grapes.
- Cook the grapes in the syrup. Add the flavored syrup (and food coloring if needed) to a small saucepan. Bring the syrup to a low boil. Add the grapes and simmer together for about 10 minutes.
- Store. Pour into a clean jar. Store in the refrigerator.
And the result:
But wait (again)!
This is not the end of the Rubyette. If you joined us for last week’s deep dive into pimentos, you know that the Homestead is hosting another of our virtual food programs in a couple of weeks. For Mother’s Day 2021, we will be talking about the history of taking tea and the foods that go along with that. The beautiful Rubyette will be making an appearance as part of a cream cheese tea sandwich. We are posting a list of our recipes so that you can taste along with us. Or if you prefer, tune in first to watch us taste them live, then cook the ones that most catch your eye. We hope to see you there!