Canning: An icy Northside ‘Blennd’
Summertime in most Northside neighborhoods in the ’50s was filled with frequent visits to the local drugstore. Though many homes had refrigerators, most of these “ice boxes” had little room to keep anything frozen.
In those years big-box pharmacy chains did not exist here on the Northside. Every neighborhood had a couple of mom and pop drug stores with a section for buying various prescriptions and over-the-counter medications.
Most of the space in these stores, however, was set aside for ice cream products, sodas, cones, hand packed pints and quarts and sundaes. Some even served classic banana splits.
These edible treats were the prepared at the soda fountain with its iconic Coke sign, along with soda water dispensers.
Many folks walked to the drug store or grocer and therefore patronized the store closest to home. In those years my friends and I went to Ochsenhirt’s at the corner of Davis Avenue and Brighton Road.
In fact we were there almost every afternoon as we, the paperboys, waited for our stack of Pittsburgh Presses and Sun-Telegraphs to be delivered at the stone WPA-built shelter in Legion Park, across the street from “Oxies,” as we called it.
During those hot summer afternoons we would usually buy a glass of Lemon Blennd for a nickle.
Blennd was the beverage of choice because it was kept in a gallon bottle deep in the ice cream freezer compartment. When poured into the glass– real glass glasses – it had the consistency of slush –freezing cold, super sweet, lemon-flavored slush.
Within seconds after that first gulp the brain freeze began. We never learned to avoid the 2 or 3 second excruciating pain in the back of the head.
In 2010, David Grinnell, a good friend, local historian, and super archivist, as well as a resident of Observatory Hill, wrote a brief history of “Blennd” in the Allegheny City Society’s “Recorder Dispatch: Journal of Old Allegheny History and Lore.” The entire article can be found on the Society’s website — AlleghenyCitySociety.org.
It seems the secret recipe for Blennd was developed in the late 1940s by William Keagy at his drug store. The Keagy Pharmacy was located in present-day Perry Hilltop at the corner of Perrysville and Kennedy Avenues.
Keagy sold his recipe to the Reymer’s candy makers in 1949. Since then Blennd and Blennd concentrate have been marketed by Reymers, Heinz, and presently Byrnes and Kiefer, all firms with Northside roots.
It’s no small wonder why a tall cold glass of “Blennd” remains a summertime favorite for many Northsiders.
Some of us have even found ways to dilute it with a bit more water than called for, to mix it with iced tea, or to supplement it with other stronger elixirs of choice.
Regardless of how we choose to prepare it, time has taught many of us how to enjoy our Blennd without the accompanying brain freeze.