By Mark Meitkiewicz
Of all the challenges the Jewish people have had to overcome throughout the ages, this is NOT one of them. But oy, what a nuisance it has become.
A fire at Gabila’s Knishes on Long Island, billed as the world’s biggest maker of these greasy delights, caused consternation and headlines around the globe (New York Times: “From Small Fire, a Great Fried-Knish Famine”). [http://bit.ly/knish11] The impending shortage was even memorialized by a limerick on National Public Radio:
For tasty, filled Jewish kuh-dishes,
The timing is simply kuh-vicious.
Supplies are all gone-ukkah,
Right before Chanukah.
It seems we’ve run out of kuh-nishes. [http://bit.ly/knish1]
Although the makers suggested that knishes are too difficult to create at home, the trove of online recipes seems to belie that claim. We’ll get to the recipes in a moment. But first, some history.
The Oxford Companion to American Food and Drink calls the knish a “canonical” Jewish American food whose name comes from Ukrainian Yiddish (from the verb “to crease”). Knishes successfully made the jump from Eastern Europe to the U.S. and into the Jewish vernacular. “The round, potato-stuffed knish became an American Yiddish metaphor for stupidity (‘the brains of a knish’), unexpected good fortune (‘to be hit with a knish’), and sexual favors (‘looking for some knish’)”. [http://bit.ly/knish2]
The Jewish-food Knish Archives (yes, there ARE knish archives!) lists an impressive 32 varieties including Corned Beef, Indian Potato and Tuna, and several recipes from Manhattan’s venerable Yonah Schimmel Knishery – with chicken, kasha and cheese fillings. [http://bit.ly/knish3]. Another Jewish recipe goldmine offers a dozen others including Fruit-filled, Jennie Grossinger’s and “Knishelach” (Little Knishes). [http://bit.ly/knish12]
For years, filmmaker Laura Silver was on the hunt for the holy grail of knishes, Fannie Stahl’s, founder of Mrs. Stahl’s knishes and one of Brooklyn’s “legendary purveyors of the stuffed, baked Eastern European savory pastries.” Silver’s quest took her to San Francisco where she tracked down Fannie Stahl’s granddaughters who agreed to share their bubbe’s recipe with Laura – and you. [http://bit.ly/knish4]
After the fire, it seems like everyone has been getting into the act. Brooklyn’s Center for Kosher Culinary Arts (“The only kosher cooking school outside of Israel to offer career training in culinary and pastry arts”) has created a Gabila-like recipe “for all those ‘knish-a-holics’ suffering through the knish crisis.” [http://bit.ly/knish13] And there’s even a vegan version (hold the liver – bring on the tofu) care of PETA, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. [http://bit.ly/knish5]
If you need help with the technique, you can observe experts ply their trade on YouTube. [http://bit.ly/knish6]. But for a real haymishe ta’am, I recommend watching Rukhl Schaechter and Eve Jochnowitz instruct you in Yiddish (with English subtitles). [http://bit.ly/knish7]
What will a knish do to your waistline? According to fitday.com, a standard potato knish packs 214 calories with about half from fat. [http://bit.ly/knish10]
If you love the food but can’t find like-minded fans, fear not. Join the Facebook group, The International Knish Society, and you’ll never be alone. Archival photos, “lost” recipes and more. [http://bit.ly/knish8]
For those who rely on Gabila’s the news is good. The knish shortage is almost over. But isn’t the news even better if you can bake one yourself?
Mark Mietkiewicz writes about the Internet. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.