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Who Invented the “Toothsome Dainty” — the Knish?

August 31, 2017

In 1916 the Literary Digest, a popular magazine, reported that on the Lower East Side the newest “most popular viand” of the day was none other than the knish; “the succulent knish” as the New York Times called it.  

 

 

And who was the originator of this delectable food? The Literary Digest asked and answered, “A certain Max Green lays claim to the invention of this toothsome dainty.”

 

 

Indeed, if you wanted another source for corroboration, you would have found it in New York Times (January 27, 1916) which reports that Max Green of 150 Rivington Street was “the originator of the great Knish.”

 

 

Oddly, Morris London (Max’s rival in the great Knish War of 1916) never contradicted or questioned Max Green’s claim. Instead, as Literary Digest reports that London, “scenting the success of the knish, (he) opened a rival establishment across the way, opening its doors, over which blazed the insignia, United Knish Factory.”

Illus. from Knish War on Rivington Street

by Jon Davis

 

Uptown readers might have been satisfied with Max Green’s invented inventor story, his personal Fake News; but most Jewish immigrants of the Lower East Side knew the knish was a filling, affordable, easy- to-eat at work, on the street food that like them…came from the Old Country. Who made the “original knish”? Who could say?


 

Uptown readers might have been satisfied with Max Green’s invented inventor story, his personal Fake News; but most Jewish immigrants of the Lower East Side knew the knish was a filling, affordable, easy- to-eat at work, on the street food that like them…came from the Old Country. Who made the “original knish”? Who could say?

 

Oddly, in 1916, no one mentioned that a Romanian immigrant, Yonah Shimmel had been selling knishes from a pushcart since 1890 and later from a small store on Houston Street, just a few blocks away from Rivington Street. By 1910, six years before Max and Morris's Knish War, knishes had been around ( the block, so to speak.) Yonah Shimmel left the business that year and his cousin, Joseph Berger, moved across the street to 137 East Houston, opening a knishery that has been in business more than a hundred years. It's still there!

 

 

Today it’s also possible to buy Shimmel’s knishes online and other brands in the supermarket freezer. But in 1916, at a time when people from all over the world were making new lives in New York, the Literary Digest had it right when they celebrated New York's multitude of immigrants and their “Slavish, Jewish, Roumanian, Bohemian, Italian, and Chinese bills of fare” with this welcoming nod to America’s diversity:

 

"Knish is one more esoteric word to add to the culinary vocabulary along with chop-suey, goulash, and zabaglione."  

Send for your copy of

The Knish War on Rivington Street.

 

"A tasty slice of New York City immigrant lore.”Kirkus 

 

"A knish competisch...a joyful story of people who take pride in their work, but eventually realize a fundamental truth: there's no such thing as too many knishes."   Horn Book  

 

 

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