If the knish were a person, it might be dividing its time between trying to find itself, and sitting in a therapist’s office in the midst of an identity crisis.
After all, says Laura Silver, there’s a lot of confusion about what makes up a knish.
“Well, first you have the misconception knish is only eaten by Jews. That’s not true — knish is popular among all people, particularly in urban centers.”
Silver is probably the closest thing Baltimore will see to a knish czar. A knish major. Perhaps the leader of the knish entourage.
And those are all good things. On Sunday, May 20, Laura Silver will be at the Jewish Museum of Maryland, giving a presentation on the history of the knish and its place in popular culture.
“Knish 101: The Life and Times of the Knish” will be aimed not just as knish connisseurs, but at what Silver terms “the knish-curious,” meaning those who have never tasted knish — or perhaps never tasted the food traditionally known as knish.
You see, the knish, a snack food made of dough wrapped around a filling (mashed potato, ground meat, onions or any combination of these or something else) has its place not just in the overarching history of food, but in Silver’s personal history as well, having come from a family that owned a knish shop for 70 years.
“I guess I was obsessed with the knish from birth,” she says.
The shop, Mrs. Stahl’s Knish, was located in Brighton Beach for more than 70 years. It eventually went out of business and was replaced by a Subway, to Silver’s everlasting disgust.
In trying to do research on the knish, Silver followed the trail through immigration and through history. The food seems to have eastern European origins, but it has been interpreted by various cultures through the ages as well.
Latin America, for example, has the empanada. Italy has the calzone. Poland has the pierogi. Britain has the Cornish pasty. All differ in ingredients, but the central premise remains the same.
“A knish is an envelope of dough that is stuffed with mashed potato and onions, but more importantly, with memories,” says Silver.
The knish presentation at the Jewish Museum of Maryland will take in Silver’s reflections, will also include a question and answer session, and will involve — listen up, foodies — a knish tasting. All knish served for the tasting will be kosher, according to Silver.
The presentation, which begins at 5 p.m., is free with paid museum admission.
Knish loyalty anywhere, as it turns out, is something like crab cake loyalty in Baltimore, chili loyalty in Texas or cheesesteak loyalty in Philly. According to Silver, people are notoriously faithful to particular knisheries for their own reasons.
“People swear by certain knishes,” she says. “That’s just the state of the knish today.”
Note: The Jewish Museum of Maryland, 15 Lloyd Street, has “Knish History 101: Life and Times of the Knish” on Sunday, May 20 at 5 p.m. BYO memories, recipes and recollections and come hungry for knish tales. There will also be a knish tasting featuring knishes from local knisheries. Free with regular museum admission. Info: Rachel Cylus firstname.lastname@example.org, 410-732-6400 ext 215.
by Mary Helen Sprecher