Walk back through knish-tory with this food historian

Very knish: Laura Silver love knishes so much she dressed as one for Halloween in 2010. Now she’s penned a book about her favorite potato pastry.
Photo by Stefano Giovannini

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.
Old school: Mrs. Stahl’s was a Brighton Beach staple for 70 years. When the store finally closed in 2006, some thought the knish era in Brooklyn might be over.
Sara Spatz

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