Last week, amNY questioned the longevity of the knish, ahem. I can’t just let that sit, obviously. Here’s the letter I just sent off to the editors, with a picture and link to the beta version of my long-anticipated Knish Map (first New York City, then the world).
your friendly guide to where to find a knish around here
January 19, 2015
To the editors:
Regarding “The disappearing foods of New York City,” by Georgia Kral (January 16, 2015), I beg to differ with your assessment of the knish. The pillow of stuffed dough isn’t disappearing, it’s reappearing, one just need know where to look.There are more than two dozen places to find delicious knishes in NYC — plus, they are easy to make at home — including delicatessens, specialty shops, and yes, a women selling knishes from a cart in Coney Island (Sundays at about 1pm near the beach pavilion on the boardwalk near Stillwell Ave.) The first-ever knish map is a good place to start sniffing out the knish offerings of the region — and to contribute your own findings.
Knish entrepreneurship is alive and well and builds on a long history that spans continents. In October, Lower East Side native Judy Hiller-Schwartz launched her biz, Judy’s Knishes, at the Hester Street Fair. The first written mention of the knish comes from 1614, from a poem about the town of Krakowiec, near modern-day Lviv in Ukraine. That makes the knish more than 400 years old. Sure, it may encounter tough times — like each of us — but that’s no indication that it’s going away anytime soon.
What a thrill to discuss the knish derring-do of Mrs. Gussie Schwebel, baker extraordinaire, at the Tenement Museum this week with Forward archivist Chana Pollack.
In early 1942, after Mrs. Schwebel appeared in the New York Sun, she sent a clipping of the article along with a note to…. yup, Eleanor Roosevelt. In our conversation in front of an audience, Chana suggested that perhaps Mrs. Schwebel had been inspired by the Bintel Brief, letters that readers wrote to the Forward requesting advice on how to cope with the aftermath of immigration and the pitfalls of assimilation.
Mrs. Schwebel’s correspondence revealed had her own advice for the first lady: sample some homemade knishes and consider using them as reinforcements for the armed forces.
To find out how Mrs. Roosevelt’s response, check out my book. And if you happen to know of any descendants of the Schwebel family, send them my way.
Welcome to #MyWritingProcess, a Blog Tour-cum-Chain Letter
Fear not, I won’t spill the beans on my ownwriting ways quite yet. (That’s next week)
First, I’ll let you in on how Ava Chin goes about it. This is part of #MyWritingProcess, which is much more than a hashtag. It’s a way for writers to collaborate and pay it forward and share some insights while appearing on each other’s blogs — virtual travel par excellence. And of course, it’s a chance for you to sit back and soak it all in.
Writing, Processing, Spreading the Word This is part of the #MyWritingProcess blog tour, in which writer types pay it forward and dish on how and why we do what we do. I’m pleased to continue with this lineage and to feature Ava as the first-ever guest blogger on knish.me, it’s an auspicious start. And just who is Ava Chin, you ask? Well, as it turns out, we share the same hometown, a common birthplace (Booth Memorial Hospital), an amor de grandmothers and a fascination with urban nature. And, oh yeah, we’re both writers with books coming out any day now.
Introducing Ava Chin, My New-found Soul Sister A native New Yorker from Flushing, Queens, Ava Chin forages throughout the five boroughs and the tri-state area, writing about her finds for places like the NY Times City Room and Saveur magazine.
Her forthcoming memoir Eating Wildly: Foraging for Life, Love, and the Perfect Meal (Simon & Schuster, May 2014), about being raised by a single mother and loving Chinese grandparents, reveals how foraging and the DIY-food movement helped Ava to heal up from the wound of an absent father and taught her important lessons in self-reliance. After a romantic break-up and the loss of a beloved family member, Ava immerses herself in places like Prospect and Central Parks, discovering the city’s best mushrooms, mulberries, and even a swarm of wild honeybees slated for extermination on Staten Island, meeting fellow foragers and mycologists along the way. As the seasons turn, she starts to see the world as a place of abundance and beauty, where everything is interconnected and interdependent—and timing is key.
Ava Chin is the former “Urban Forager” columnist for the New York Times’ City Room (2009-2013). She has written for about arts and culture for the Los Angeles Times Sunday Magazine, the Village Voice, BUST, SPIN, VIBE, and Martha Stewart online. She has stories in the Edible Brooklyn Cookbook (2011) and The Bust DIY Guide to Life (2011).
Here’s the lovely, the talented, the intrepid Ava Chin, in her own words:
I’m thrilled to be taking part in the #MyWritingProcess Blog Tour, where writers discuss their creative process. Last week, we had the amazing Patty Chang Anker (#SomeNerve) and today, here are my answers. Here’s a little peek into my world.
What am I working on? Next month my food memoir Eating Wildly: Foraging for Life, Love and the Perfect Meal is coming out and I’m thrilled to see it in hardcover. It’s been a long road for the book, so it’s lovely that it’s garnering so many positive reviews in places like Booklist, Kirkus Reviews, and Library Journal.
I’m currently writing a piece for Huffington Post (on wild edibles), a story on what foraging taught me about love, and a post on my website about a common weed that helped me to combat the craziness of juggling parenting, day job, and book promotion—as well a severe migraine. I also have some shorter print pieces on the joys of foraging in the works.
I’m preparing for a lecture and a reading at the University of Southern California, where I received my Ph.D. in literature and creative writing. Even though I’m originally from Queens, returning to USC is a little like going back home. In between the talks and reconnecting with old friends and former students from UCLA-Writers’ Extension, I’ll be hiking through Griffith Park, keeping an eye out for the wild edibles growing there.
I’m also gearing up for the Food Book Fair’s Moth-Style Food Book Slam in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. I’ll be reading from Eating Wildly and going head-to-head with some fabulous chefs, butchers, and food writers, including Tom Mylan and Sarah Zorn.
How does my work differ from others of its genre? Eating Wildly is one of the first food memoirs to be published about foraging, family and the search for love. I grew up at my Chinese grandparents’ kitchen table in Queens, eating elaborate meals and learning about life. As an adult, foraging brought me back home, even in the face of severe loss (my absent father, my loving grandparents). Each chapter focuses on a specific edible plant or mushroom, including its culinary, medicinal, and historical uses, and the lessons I learned just by paying attention.
Why do I write what I do? Ever since I was a kid, I’ve been interested in the natural world, but because I grew up in the city, that meant fishing off the coast of Brooklyn or Long Island, and examining the weeds that cropped up in our back courtyard. For years, I forgot all about that as I worked for publications like the Village Voice, Spin, Vibe and Martha Stewart, and then attending graduate writing programs at Johns Hopkins and USC to work on my fiction writing. It was only later, after returning to New York, as I started foraging in earnest, that I discovered so many lessons in the natural world, and renewed my connection with my hometown. Foraging has afforded me a way to reconcile so many of the issues I’d carried with me from childhood, helping me to be more patient and to see clearly before me what simply “is” vs. what I’d merely hoped might be there.
How does my writing process work? I discovered long ago that I write best in the morning. As a freelancer and a grad student, I used to roll out of bed and just start writing—with only the aid of some writing music (Philip Glass) and a men’s vintage shirt that I only wore when writing (I’m a big believer in routine and the Pavlovian response to certain triggers). Now that I’m a mother, I try to wake up early and start writing before my kid wakes up, but it’s a fight and a struggle to not give in to my tendency to want to clean the apartment and put away the toys.
I think I’m winning—with a beautiful new book about to be born—although the living room is in perpetual shambles.
What are the best conditions for you to write, and how do you avoid the tyranny of the household chores? I’d love to know.
Laura Silver is the author of the forthcoming Knish: In Search of Jewish Soul Food. Her reporting on food and culture has appeared in The New York Times, on National Public Radio and WNYC Radio. Her accounts of far-flung menorahs, knish hunts and cringe-worthy bar mitzvah parties have been featured in The Jerusalem Report, The Forward, and the anthology Jews of Brooklyn (Brandeis Press, 2002).
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.
For interviews Laura Silver
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.
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
Here’s the lucky, first-ever winner of a Mickey’s mustard giveaway, Angel Roman, on the right, pictured with, from left, the Mustard Maker (my Pops, Mickey Silver) and yours truly, clearly awestruck by the glory of it all.
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.
Congrats, Angel. And thanks for telling me about the relleno de papa (filled potato), the Puerto Rican cousin of the knish. Adelante!
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.
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.
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.
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.