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Laura Silver’s “Knish: In Search of the Jewish Soul Food”

Walk back through knish-tory with this food historian

The Brooklyn Paper
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Long live the knish.

The potato pastry has been a staple of on-the-go food in Brooklyn since the early 1900s, but its luster started to fade toward the millennium’s end. Fortunately for folks like the knish historian who is going to give a talk about the Jewish treat at the Central Library on May 28, recent years have seen the knish finding a new niche.

“The knish renaissance has begun,” said Laura Silver, who recently penned a book called “Knish: In Search of the Jewish Soul Food.”

Silver’s book opens with the story of Mrs. Stahl’s, a bakery that served Brighton Beach for seven decades. Silver’s father and grandmother used to eat the knishes there and Silver eventually took up the job of delivering the snacks to her grandmother after she moved to a nursing home.

Mrs. Stahl’s closed down in 2006, and Silver was so distraught she had to find out what happened.

“It was like a ruptured link,” Silver said. “My whole pilgrimage site was gone.”

Silver tracked down the old owner and discovered the Mrs. Stahl’s recipe had been taken up by a pasta factory in New Jersey, an odyssey she immortalized in the pages of The Brooklyn Paper. But the creations coming from the armpit of America could not compare to Mrs. Stahl’s, she said.

“The construction was similar,” she said. “They were perhaps recognizable, but not the same thing.”

She believes the knishery decline occurred because the borough lost the folks who used to chow down on the mustard-covered Polish delight and that others were ashamed of their taste for it.

“A lot of the people who loved the knish had left,” she said. “And people’s upward mobility made them want nothing to do with their roots.”

Since then, however, Silver has seen a resurgence, which she thinks is partly driven by people re-connecting with their past.

In a way, she said, the pastry mimics our borough’s ebb and flow.

“Knish history is Brooklyn history,” Silver said.

Laura Silver, author of “Knish: In Search of the Jewish Soul Food” at the Central Library’s Brooklyn Collection [10 Grand Army Plaza between Eastern Parkway and Flatbush Avenue in Prospect Heights, (718) 230–2100, www.brooklynpubliclibrary.org]. May 28 at 7 pm. Free.

Reach reporter Matthew Perlman at (718) 260-8310. E-mail him at mperlman@cnglocal.com. Follow him on Twitter @matthewjperlman.
Updated 10:17 pm, July 9, 2018
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Reasonable discourse

Gersh Kuntzman from Windsor Terrace says:
By the way, Silver thanks former Brooklyn Paper Editor Gersh Kuntzman in her book for assigning her the very first knish story she did. Kuntzman, Silver says, demanded "a clarion call." And he got it. Too bad that kind of aggressive, take no knishoners editing is on the wane.
May 27, 2014, 9:33 am
swampyankee from Runined Brooklyn says:
LOOK AT MEEEEEEEEE!!
MOMMY LOOOOOK AT MEEEEEEE!!!!!!!!!!!
LIKE YEEEEY DEEEDE!
May 27, 2014, 9:36 am
Peter Engel from Fort Greene says:
Laura's a great person and did a thorough job on this labor of love. We wish her much success with the book.

Swampy's just an envious troll to be ignored.
May 27, 2014, 10:20 am
ty from pps says:
You're kidding... you deleted my comment and left Swampy's? Eff you, Brooklyn Paper.
May 27, 2014, 12:05 pm
Nathan Tempey (Brooklyn Paper) says:
To Gersh's comment I say, "Fair enough."

We take more of a death before knishonor approach these days.

Ty, you can't curse in our comments section.
May 27, 2014, 12:08 pm
ty from pps says:
I didn't... I asterisked.
May 27, 2014, 12:11 pm
Ed from Bay Ridge says:
I've never understood knish appeal ... but I admit that I'm probably an outlier.
May 28, 2014, 12:45 pm
Peter Engel from Fort Greene says:
Ed, there's a lot of bad, greasy, stale and mushy knishes out there. If you ever get the real thing fresh, it might change your POV. Or not.
May 29, 2014, 9:33 am
Peter Engel from Fort Greene says:
Ed, there's a lot of bad, greasy, stale and mushy knishes out there. If you ever get the real thing fresh, it might change your POV. Or not.
May 29, 2014, 9:33 am
The Chooch from The Bohemian Magic Show says:
Sounds like another niche market. The Bushwick Knishery. Bringing Brooklyn back from the brink.
May 29, 2014, 2:20 pm

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