For Immediate Release
February 20, 2014 (Brooklyn, NY)
Statement by the World’s Leading Knish Expert on the Return of Gabila’s Square Knish
Laura Silver, author, Knish: In Search of the Jewish Soul Food (Brandeis University Press, May 6, 2014)
The return of the square knish marks the resilience of a fourth-generation family business and of the potato patty itself. This four-and-half-month hiatus from Gabila’s square, fried Coney Island knishes was a mere hiccup in four centuries of knish history. The knish has survived pogroms, immigration and assimilation, I never had a doubt it would come back better than ever.
The revival of Gabila’s square knish production is great news for knish lovers and knish newbies everywhere. Round, square, baked, fried, whatever its countenance, the knish is an essential link to our collective culinary past and, as the ultimate comfort food its return marks an important moment in our communal food future: we’re on the cusp of a global knish renaissance.
Welcome WYPR listeners!
Thank you for being part of debut on the my mid-Atlantic airwaves. It’s an honor to bring the knish conversation to Charm City, which makes me think of the Yiddish song, “Bei Mir Bist Du Sheyn.” The title means, “I think you’re pretty.” But it’s the second line of the song that resonates here: Bei mir host du cheyn, in other words, “You’ve got charm.” You do. And, chances are, you’re concerned with the future of the knish.
Make your voice heard in the knish-o-sphere:
Come to the Jewish Museum of Maryland, May 20 at 5pm
Join the International Knish Society, contests to come
Post your knish photos in a brand-new Knish Flickr group
Share your knish story and/ or join my mailing list.
Go eat a knish. Sion’s Bakery is donating some for the May 20th event.
Or better yet, make one.
And a get a bunch of people to help you
Check out a recipe from a Baltimore native.
On Wednesday, April 25, 2012, the knish took Brooklyn Heights. The pastry reintegrated itself into this tony corner of Kings County in an audio-visual presentation that stirred memory, debate, and appetites at the Brooklyn Historical Society.
Thanks to the fine folks at Brooklyn Historical Society for a lovely evening. And to the 65 knish cognoscenti who came to take part in the illustrated lecture and in a quiz. It was a self-graded mini-test, with all respondants eligible to
- nosh knishes from Adelman’s of Kings Highway and KnisheryNYC
- enter a drawing for a secret and very special prize… you, guessed it, nothing less than that famed knish companion… mustard
[The Mustard Maker, the Knish Expert and Angel Roman, winner of the first-ever Golden Mustard Prize./ Photo by Burt Grossman]
If you’re wondering about that shiny object on my lapel, it’s a reflective knish-like pin I picked up in Riga, Latvia, where everyone wears shiny things to make themselves known to motorists. It’s a safety measure, but I prefer to think of it as a silver (or golden) indicator of the knish renaissance to come. We’re gonna need a lot of mustard, people.
So, if you know me, you probably know I spent a few months in rural Senegal in 2007 as a pro bono marketing consultant with an organization called ASREAD. I went with an organization called American Jewish World Service, AJWS for short. I was hooked on Senegal since my days as a French major at UMass.
I ended up studying in Paris, where I encountered poems of Léopold Sedar Senghor, Senegal’s first president and the namesake of its main airport.
Home Away From Home
After three months in the Muslim country I was shocked to discover that the mysterious food item the local girls had been talking about for weeks, the “fatayer,” was in fact a cousin of the knish. I encountered a whole platter of fatayers at a women’s gathering — think Tupperware party meets Ladies Lunch, but homemade and with dancing to the beats of plastic buckets-turned drums. In this vibrant and foreign environment, the knish-like food reminded me of how much we have in common. And, it made me feel at home.
Fast forward a few years to the Banff Centre for the Arts, in Canada’s Rocky Mountains. After my presentation on the pull of my ancestral food, my colleagues at a conference on digital strategies were curious about the knish and insisted we make some. Fifty people from six countries — many of whom had never met a Jew before , never mind heard of a knish — had a midnight baking session. Dough was our interface and the only digits involved were human fingers. It spawned tons of conversations and a real sense of real-time, face-to-face community.
Then, in 2011, in a recreation room at the Sholom Home senior housing facility in St. Paul, Minnesota. Hazel Chase and nearly two dozen volunteers from the Ladies Auxiliary were busy rolling out dough and stuffing it with oniony potato filling to make knishes for residents of the home and for sale as a fundraiser for the facility. There was a lot of laughter coming from that room.
All these experiences led me to submit an entry to AJWS’s Where Do You Give Contest about the future of philanthropy. And, yup, it was selected as one of nine finalists.
Winners to be announced on May 15. Stay tuned…
Laura Silver has been awarded one of the top prizes for religion writing in the nation.
The New York-based writer earned Second Place in the 2011 RNA Religion Commentary of the Year. She received the award on Saturday night at the Religion Newswriters Association (RNA) Annual Conference in Durham, NC.
The award was open to opinion pieces created and distributed via any media format in 2010. Silver’s stories used food, culture and humor to highlight the Jewish experience in New York City.
Christmas with Claude Lanzman’s ‘Shoah’ (Huffington Post)
On Veteran’s Crosses and Shields (Huffington Post)
Custom Versus Costume (CNN)
Silver praised RNA and fellow religion reporters for their enthusiasm, persistence and camaraderie. “The 2010 RNA Conference and its attendees encouraged me to ratchet up my game and submit articles for consideration,” said the woman who has been on the knish trail since 2002.
First prize for Religion Commentary went to Silver’s new crony, Kay Campbell, Faith and Values Editor of the Huntsville Times (Alabama).
Silver came home from the conference with a two-foot plaque and a piece of sports history. At a conference banquet, the girl who didn’t make it to her high school’s hoops team won a basketball autographed by Naismith Hall of Fame member. Coach Cathy Rush is the subject of The Mighty Macs, an upcoming feature film about the down-and-out Catholic College woman’s team that she coached to victory in the 1970′s.
“I’m inspired by underdogs and women who persevere and break down barriers,” said Silver, a former scorekeeper for the Flushing High School boy’s basketball team. Today, the journalist sees her quest for knish history as a way to highlight forgotten stories and initiate interfaith dialogue between Polish Catholics and American Jews, who have passed the food back and forth for generations.
Greetings from Ely, Minnesota
That’s Ely. Pronounced EEL-lee. Looks Jewish, but nope. I did see a pastie [pronounced past-EE, to distinguish it from ornamental nipple ornaments] in the supermarket. It’s pretty knish-like, but with pork and beef. And it’s the size of, say, half my face. So nope, I didn’t buy one, but hope to cop a photo on the way out of town.
So here I am on a lake, Tofte (the e is not silent), 15 miles out of Ely. Good for early morning and sunset kayak rides, dips in the lake and trips to the local house of 250,000 lures. This is not an exaggeration. And, very good for writing. Up in a screened in cabin called Osprey, or in a lakeside library. I like this unbridled sky thing. And nature.
Walking to a kayak last night, I recalled the words of ” Eli, Eli,” lyrics by Hannah Senesh:
I pray that these things never end:
The sand and the sea
The rush of the water
Lightning in the sky
(Better in Hebrew.)
If you’re curious about the state of the knish in the Holy Land, have a look at this article, just out from Alef Next.
Hearty thanks to Sandy Loeffler, who originally posted this recipe on http://www.jewishfood-list.com.
It’s been a source of great joy and fulfillment — and filling — to many, including he latest crop of International Knish Society bakers at the Hazon Food Conference in beautiful, sunny Davis, California.
Ida Gardner’s Knishes
Source: My mother, Ida Zelkowitz Gardner
Serves: Yields a few dozen, depending on the size
5 cups flour
2 tsp. baking powder
2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. sugar
1-1/2 cups warm water
2/3 cup oil
3 pounds of potatoes, peeled, cut in pieces and cooked
Salt and pepper to taste
1 onion, peeled, chopped and fried in a bit of oil
3-1/2 pounds roasted chuck
2 pounds of chopped, fried onions
2 pounds of boiled potatoes
salt and pepper to taste
egg wash (1 egg yolk plus 1 tbsp. water)
For meat filling, after everything is cooked, grind all the ingredients together.
For potato filling fry the chopped onion in the oil. Cook the potatoes until soft but not mushy, and drain. Mash or rice the potatoes, and mix with the salt and pepper, onion, and oil.
Preheat the oven to 400°F.
In a big bowl, mix the dry ingredients. Add eggs, oil, and warm water, and mix together with the flour mixture. Knead the dough slightly. Form a ball. Divide the dough into 4-5 parts. Roll one section at a time into a thin circle (about 1/8th” thick) on a lightly floured board or pastry cloth. Brush lightly with some oil.
Put a ring of the potato filling on the dough around the outer perimeter of the circle, leaving a bit of dough to fold over the filling. Make a slit in the center of the circle. Lift the dough up and over the filing from the outside of the circle.
“Roll” by hand until you’ve reached the center, and the filling is encased by the dough. Using the side of your hand as a “saw,” cut through the roll of dough until you have as many pieces of whatever size you prefer (baseball knish-size, for example). The ends of each knish will look “twirly” or might be open a bit.
Pinch each end together and tuck into the knish, making a “pupik/belly button,” and tuck it into the knish.
Grease the baking pans and put the knishes on. Brush each knish with the egg wash. Bake at for about 20 minutes on the bottom shelf of a gas oven, then switch to the top shelf for the next 20 minutes.
These knishes freeze well, but once you taste them, you won’t have many left to freeze. They’re great!
Poster’s Notes: My mother, Ida Gardner (z’l), was a wonderful cook and baker. She and my aunt did their own catering of small parties and dinners, and Mom also worked for a few different kosher caterers in Baltimore as the “knish lady.” Schleider’s, the last caterer that Mom worked for before retiring, had a contract from Memorial Stadium to provide meat knishes at the home baseball games. It seems to me they only charged about a quarter for them–a real bargain for something of this quality that was as big as your fist. I don’t know if the caterer is still in existence or who now has the contract at Baltimore’s Camden Yards Stadium or if they are still made and sold. When the television show called “What’s My Line” was on, we kids thought about signing Mom up as a guest because we figured the panelists would never guess “Knish Lady.” However, Mom was very shy and would never consent to letting us send her name in to the show. Mom also once baked some potato knishes for one of the cooks at the Moosewood Restaurant in Ithaca, NY, when Isaac Bashevis Singer was in town and having lunch at the restaurant. He loved them, and I’m sure all of you will too.
Posted by Sandy Loeffler
Here’s the video from my presentation at TEDx:BroadStreetNY: Learning From History
at The Hive at 55, June 25, 2011.
The footage isn’t blurry, just this starter image… a reminder that it’s just not the same as being there in person. But a very close second.
I learned about this TEDx late in the game and took a chance on pitching the talk. (A conference in New York City about history without the knish?! ) Lucky for me, event organizer and leadership guru Holly Landau also had a connection to Mrs. Stahl’s Knishes —her grandparents lived near the Brighton Beach shop — and was on the lookout for a theme for the afternoon snack break. The humble hunk of dough saved the day.
We had cocktails and knishes, cocktail sized, of course, Cabbage, potato and kasha (buckwheat), from Yonah Shimmels, the closest knish purveyor, and one with more than 100 years of backstory.
And, speaking of Mrs. Stahl’s: big news! I’ve made contact with the Weingast family. The man who bought the shop from Mrs. Stahl’s niece is still recounting knish tales. What a gift. I’ve searched for Mrs. Stahl in birth records, death records, Brooklyn business records with no luck. The Weingasts were the missing link. Their name was on the front of the store — an integral part of the business.