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In Search of the Jewish Soul Food

Laura Silver

Publication Year: 2014

When Laura Silver's favorite knish shop went out of business, the native New Yorker sank into mourning, but then she sprang into action. She embarked on a round-the-world quest for the origins and modern-day manifestations of the knish.

The iconic potato pie leads the author from Mrs. Stahl's bakery in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, to an Italian pasta maker in New Jersey--and on to a hunt across three continents for the pastry that shaped her identity. Starting in New York, she tracks down heirs to several knish dynasties and discovers that her own family has roots in a Polish town named Knyszyn.

With good humor and a hunger for history, Silver mines knish lore for stories of entrepreneurship, survival, and major deliciousness. Along the way, she meets Minnesota seniors who make knishes for weekly fundraisers, foodies determined to revive the legacy of Mrs. Stahl, and even the legendary knish maker's granddaughters, who share their joie de vivre--and their family recipe.

Knish connections to Eleanor Roosevelt and rap music? Die-hard investigator Silver unearths those and other intriguing anecdotes involving the starchy snack once so common along Manhattan's long-lost Knish Alley. In a series of funny, moving, and touching episodes, Silver takes us on a knish-eye tour of worlds past and present, thus laying the foundation for a global knish renaissance.

Published by: Brandeis University Press

Title Page

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pp. iii-viii


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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xiv

The clouds came at me.
What are you doing here? What took you so long? Where’s everyone else?
Not cumulus, not nimbus, and not cumulonimbus, those clouds hovered, strange but familiar. They sat low in the sky, stalwart, distant, and firm. I, too, had questions, but no chance to ask....

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Au Revoir, Mrs. Stahl’s: Brighton Beach to the Lower East Side

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pp. 1-72

The knish situation in Brooklyn is not what it once was. I can say that because I’m third-generation Brooklyn, once removed. Queens, where I was born, had knishes, too, tons of them. I took them for granted, then they were gone....

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In Search of the First Knish: From the Holy Land to the Old Country

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pp. 73-136

In New York, the knish shaped a generation, then another and another. But what shaped the knish? The hunk of stuffed dough, like those who consumed it, was of European extraction. It arrived in New York as an immigrant and remained tethered to its humble beginnings. The knish, after all, had traveled in steerage....

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Mrs. Goldberg to Gangsta Rap: The Knish in Culture

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pp. 137-164

Borscht Belt nightclubs, Yiddish theaters, and prime-time television are no strangers to the knish. The hunk of stuffed dough has graced stages and screens with its multifaceted roles: comic foil, naughty lady, and trusted sidekick. It has touched the guts of audience members with humor and, yes, dyspepsia. From mobster comedy films to the New York Times crossword ...

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A Brief History of Competitive Knish Eating

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pp. 165-174

In Coney Island, as per tradition, knishes are served hot or, worst case scenario, at ambient temperature. On July 7, 2009, thirty-six knishes, square ones, reclined in a rectangular foil tray. The tray sat balanced on the edge of a trash can. The trash can stood in a concrete passageway that led to a ball...

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The Fine Art of Knish Making

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pp. 175-208

Aromas of onions and potatoes ricocheted from kitchen cabinets and cinderblock walls. Empty wine bottles reclined, mucked with dough. Fifty of us milled around, raised our glasses, and congratulated ourselves. Soon there would be knishes.
“Let’s say the Shehecheyanu,” I blurted, to a room of non-Jews....

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pp. 209-222

I had one more pilgrimage to make: Vineland, New Jersey. In a place once known as the land of Jewish chicken farmers, in a borough called Buena, on a road called Wheat, Conte’s Pasta awaited me. Its mascarpone-colored façade masked a wall of metal siding, corrugated, like manicotti. The brim of the...

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Recipe: Mrs. Stahl’s Potato Knishes

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pp. 223-224

Fannie Stahl’s granddaughters summoned recovered memories to bring this recipe to life. Toby Engelberg, who sold her knishes in the Bay Area for a while, enlisted the help of her elder cousin from New York, Sara Spatz, who, as a young woman, worked in her grandmother’s shop in Brighton Beach. ...

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Where to Get a Good Knish

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pp. 225-226

You can get a good knish, you just have to know where to look. Here are eighteen places I recommend, for starters....

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pp. 227-234

Like a batch of knishes, a book benefits from many hands. Throughout this process, I have been bolstered and humbled by the support of family and friends, colleagues and strangers. I have received servings of kindness and generosity that I hope to repay, and not just in knishes....


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pp. 235-252

Selected Bibliography

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pp. 253-268

Illustration Credits

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pp. 269-270


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pp. 271-282

E-ISBN-13: 9781611685459
E-ISBN-10: 1611685451
Print-ISBN-13: 9781611683127

Page Count: 272
Publication Year: 2014