I offer you this knish.
Knish, In Search of the Jewish Soul Food, by Laura Silver, came out in May from Brandeis University Press. I was impressed.
Silver's story begins on the one-year anniversary of her grandmother's death when she drove to Brighton Beach in search of her Grandma Fritzy's favorite, Mrs. Stahl's. She was craving a memorial knish. The storefront was intact, but Mrs. Stahl had dispatched for Florida. Shortly thereafter Silver was further crestfallen to find the shop retrofitted into a Subway franchise. All was wrong with the world.
Bereft, she embarked on the sentimental journey, needing to understand the knish in all of parts and history. Her search lead her to Poland, Israel, France, England, Israel, Minnesota, California and ultimately back to Mrs. Stahl's family, the legacy and lesson.
Evidenced from Silver's first line, "The knish situation in Brooklyn is not what it once was," the word for the savory or sweet pastry can't avoid its punchline power. But to devour a knish? Ah, that's quite a different matter. That's when this delectable snack shows its poetic side.
The knish, you see, is no mere madeleine. It is history, soul and literature. Not only does it tell the tale of the shtetl, to Silver, it is a symbol of strong women.
Silver's writing makes us care. Her loss is our loss. We crave kasha. We yearn for the potato and onion. We cringe at the idea of the liver. We question the use of shmaltz instead of oil. We marvel at the people who baked and peddled them. Through it all, we learn that the knish is bigger than all of us.
Unlike Mimi Sheraton's The Bialy Eaters, which was a pessimistic death march for the lox-loving disk, Knish ends on an up beat. The knish lives!
Yet, I mourn.
My cousins owned the now long gone Izzy's Knishes on the Long Beach Boardwalk. (The Boardwalk had two!) Those, hot-out-of-the-oven, became my benchmark. Yet, there I was at this book's end, saddened. If only I could have compared them to Stahl's. When I read how Silver described the Stahl knish, "If you cut it in half, the cross-sections revealed a membrane of dough that split the innards into chambers, like those of a human heart," I closed the book and said, "Now, that's a knish."
** And what to drink with a potato and kasha knish? They're actually pretty wine friendly and you can go red or white, but what I think is almost brilliant is the new Coup de Foudre rosé pet nat from La Garagista. Read about it in the next issue of The Feiring Line.