Faygo’s secret Rock & Rye recipe includes an incantation

Man in white lab coat and paper hap flaps towel over flavor mixing bag.
Harvey Lipsky, who came to Faygo as a young chemist and stayed for more than 50 years, was entrusted with the Rock ‘n’ Rye recipe.

“The Faygo Book” covers how Faygo made one of its all-time favorite flavors, the mysteriolicious Rock & Rye.

This is part of what I wrote in the book:

One of the top secrets was how to make rock ‘n’ rye. Even late into his career, founder Perry Feigenson mixed that one. In a 1969 Detroit News Magazine article Lipsky recalled, “One day when he was in his 80s and having a tough time climbing the stairs to the lab, he called me aside and said he figured it was time to learn the secret. I watched the mumbo-jumbo, which included waving a towel over the bottle, and I took notes. I analyzed the process and, being a chemist, figured I could duplicate the blend by modern methods. I worked on it several months, using the latest scientific steps. It smelled the same, it looked the same, but it wasn’t the same. I now make it his way—even waving a towel over the bottle. I never have figured out what that did to the blend.”

Joan Rayford, who heard “The Faygo Book” presentation at an Oakland County Mensa meeting, has a theory:

“Mr. Feigenson was a baker.  A ‘baking secret’ is to properly mix the batter to have sufficient air mixed in to ensure better dough rising.  Depending on the recipe, this mixing can be done by electric mixer, wooden spoon, wide or narrow spatula, by hand, with a fork, or even by tapping the bowl on the countertop to force extra air out before putting the batter into the baking pans.

“Another ‘baking secret’ is how long do you do this?  An experienced baker will do this by feel, or by counting, or ‘saying some mumbo-jumbo.”  I have some really old recipes I got from an immigrant friend of my grandma where the instructions include counting out loud.  If you look on the instructions for instant cake mixes they will say ‘beat at medium speed for 2 minutes’ or something similar.

“Waving a towel apparently is either another very slight mixing method, or when combined with the ‘saying some mumbo-jumbo’ a way to let the mixture set before moving on to the next step.  There are lots of baking recipes where the batter sits on the counter or goes into the refrigerator or freezer for a specific period of time before being baked.”

Bakers, what do you think? Is there a method to this mumbo-jumbo madness?

Longtime Pepsi employee says Vernors deal clouded Faygo sale

Man stands in library with Faygo sign in background
Pepsi-Cola retiree John Young after a Faygo Book presentation at The Library of Michigan.
John Young, who said he worked for 38 years in quality control for Pepsi, shed some light on the quiet negotiations that led to the 1985 sale of Faygo to TreeSweet. It was sold in 1987 to National Beverage Company.

According to Young, “Of the companies bidding for the Faygo product, Pepsi was one of the last bidders, but the Faygo company refused to deal with them because they had previously got a 25-year franchise deal to produce and market Vernor’s product. I know this because I worked in the factory that Vernors ended up with.

John Young spent 38 years in quality control at Pepsi.

Where can I buy Faygo?

Finding Faygo locations can be a treasure hunt, even in the Detroit area, where the stuff is made.

One of the best places I have found has been the Value Center Marketplace at 27428 Six Mile Road, Livonia, MI 48152. I was tipped off during a Faygo Book presentation at the Redford District Library.

Not only did the store have a great variety, it had great prices. I bought 2-liters for a buck. The store had 12-packs of cans as well as singles in the 20- and 24-once sizes. Just look at this beautiful Wall of Faygo.

You can see a list of more than 100 Faygo flavors over the years in “The Faygo Book.”

Faygo cupcakes contest is a taste test

I presented “The Faygo Book” program at the library in Lapeer, Michgan, recently and encountered an ingenious taste test. Patrons were challenged to taste three Faygo-infused cupcakes and to guess the flavors. Three possibilities were offered for each kind of cupcake:


Guess the Faygo Flavor

There are more than 50 Faygo flavored pops. Taste one of each cupcake to guess the flavor. To help you narrow it down, we have given you 3 choices for each cupcake.

Red cupcake
Candy apple
Rock & Rye

Green cupcake
Moon Mist
Arctic Sun

Tan cupcake
Ginger ale
Creme soda

I gave the contest winners an “F:” the best letter grade under the Faygo grading system. I gave the librarians a gold star for creativity.

Faygo and cupcakes go way back. As “The Faygo Book” recounts, Faygo got its start when Perry Feigenson, who had owned a bakery in Detroit and his brother, Ben, turned cake frosting recipes into grape, strawberry and fruit punch pop.


Faygo Rock ‘n’ Rye and Cold Duck: pour Detroit

You meet the most interesting people and hear the most interesting things on the “Faygo Book” trail.

Rock&RyeA woman at the Riverview Library reminisced about mixing Faygo Rock ‘n’ Rye with Cold Duck.

Others seemed surprised to the brink of shock.”What is Cold Duck?” It, like Faygo, is a Detroit drink.

Detroit Free Press reporter Zlati Meyer, who is in “The Faygo Book” for marveling that the company made kosher grape pop, told the Cold Duck story on March 25, 2012.

Meyer wrote that restaurateur Harold Borgman invented Cold Duck at the Pontchartrain Wine Cellars in downtown Detroit. The year was 1937, just two years after Faygo moved into its Gratiot Avenue home. Borgman mixed dry red California burgundy with New York sparkling wine.

He was experimenting with a German custom of adding champagne to the dregs of open wines from a party. Borgman called his concoction Kalte Ende, German for “Cold End,” but someone replaced the “D” with a “T,” giving us Kalte Ente, German for “Cold Duck.”

You can still buy it, unless you’d prefer to mix your own. Mixologists who combine Faygo Rock ‘n’ Rye with Cold Duck will have a pour that is pure Detroit.

The woman in Riverview declined to give her name and could not recall the proportions she used. She said she just kept adding and mixing until she achieved a taste she liked.