The Knish

February 12th, 2015 § 0 comments

The Knish is an Eastern European street food introduced to the United States by turn of the century Jewish immigrants from Belorussia. The Knish is a flaky pastry filled with a variety of stuffings—potato, kasha (buckwheat groats), spinach, cheese. A famous name in knishes (and loan-sharking…but that is another story) is Yonah Schimmel. Yonah began selling knishes from a pushcart on New York’s Lower East Side in 1890. The Yonah Schimmel knish bakery has been at its present location on East Houston Street since 1910. (There seems to be a spelling confusion. The big sign on the store says “Yonah Shimmel” even though the correct spelling is “Schimmel.”) Another top knish baker (alas, departed) on the Lower East Side was a woman named Gussie Schwebel who ran an eponymous knishery near Schimmel’s on Houston Street. Gussie was a flamboyant self promoter with a flair for publicity. In 1942, she wrote a letter to First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt in which she volunteered to bake knishes for our brave soldiers overseas. The suggested pastries would provide needed nourishment. She followed that up with another letter offering to deliver a sampling of hot knishes to the Roosevelt town house on E. 65th Street. Mrs. Roosevelt accepted the offer and the Jewish Daily Forward newspaper ran a front page story headlined: “Mrs. Roosevelt To Taste Jewish Knishes.” When delivery day arrived the Roosevelt home was surrounded by reporters, cameramen and a curious crowd. Canny Gussie Schwebel (or her press agent) had tipped off the newspapers. Mrs. Roosevelt, who didn’t enjoy being the target of press agentry, refused the knishes. Thus, the U.S. military had to fight World War Two without the benefit of nourishing knishes. (The information about Gussie Schwebel and Eleanor Roosevelt is from Laura Silver’s invaluable,researched book: “Knish: In Search of the Jewish Soul Food”. Published by Brandeis. The link is http.// www. knish.me).The knish, long only found in New York City, is making a modest comeback. Knish bakeries have opened in Los Angeles and a few other cities. Zabar’s (on New York’s Upper West Side) bakes knishes and sells them online. Gabila’s (located in Copiague, L.I.) is a mass producer of knishes who claim to have sold over a billion. HG has never fancied knishes. HG was spoiled by his Mom’s incomparable cheese (potato or kasha) blintzes served from a hot frying pan placed on the dining room trivet. Accompanied by a big bowl of rich sour cream. Ah!!!

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