It takes a village to make knishes and buns.
The thing that I possibly love best about being Jewish is the food—the passing down of recipes, the sharing within our community, and the beauty of the culinary traditions. Some of them are so odd and involve an acquired taste: my grandmother slapping the board with whiskey to make her Passover candy, the cleaning of the fish bones to make gefilte fish and boiling up the broth we call yuch, and the tradition of cooking with chicken fat or schmaltz.
Blogging, apparently has broadened my community. I had never heard of blueberry buns until I received a comment last week from a woman named Irene Saiger, telling me of her family’s tradition of taking challah dough and filling it with sugared fresh blueberries. She invited me to try her recipe: click here for a link to that.
I couldn’t imagine why our family had never tried this, so I made them today. And since I was going to the effort of filling circles of rolled out challah I decided to make some potato knishes as well. A potato knish is another kind of challah bun, this one savory, stuffed with mashed potatoes. At their best they are made with chicken fat—schmaltz—both as part of the mashed potatoes as well as brushed onto the dough before baking. My mother always had chicken fat on hand. She would tear it off of the chicken every week and keep a bag full in the freezer, along with chicken livers, saving both until she had enough of each to make chopped liver. Years ago I started saving up chicken fat in the freezer. But I never used it for anything. Today I found the bag but it was, well, rancid. My kind neighbor, Bev, volunteered to stop by the store and pick up a fat chicken for me. And then I thought of Ben, five houses down, who loves to make his own chicken stock and matzo balls with schmaltz. “Ben,” I asked, “Do you, by any chance, have any chicken fat in your freezer?” “I have a jar in the refrigerator, still fresh. I’ll bring it right over,” he said.
What are the odds of finding a neighbor in the middle of east central Illinois with a jar of schmaltz in their fridge?