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The Bialy Eaters: The Story of a Bread and a Lost World Hardcover – September 12, 2000
"Rebound" by Kwame Alexander
Don't miss best-selling author Kwame Alexander's "Rebound," a new companion novel to his Newbery Award-winner, "The Crossover,"" illustrated with striking graphic novel panels. Pre-order today
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As many of us know, bialys are chewy, onion-topped rolls, delicious with a cream-cheese schmeer. They originated in Bialystok, Poland, from which they--and the Jews who made and cherished them--have all but disappeared. In The Bialy Eaters, food writer Mimi Sheraton traces the history of this traditional treat and recounts her pursuit of it from Manhattan's Lower East Side (now bialy central) to Bialystok and elsewhere. Her book is principally a tale of the men and women, many pogrom and Holocaust victims, who have lived to recall the once plentiful kuchen. If the story lacks the thrust and imaginative life another writer might have given it, it is still a compelling blend of culinary investigation and poignant cultural evocation.
After carefully drying and wrapping exemplary bialys from Kossar's bakery in Manhattan to take with her as memory jogs, Sheraton heads first to Poland. She encounters no true bialy in Bialystok (a hamburger-roll-like bun is proffered in its name), nor does she find one in Israel, Paris, or Argentina. Look-sees in Miami Beach, Florida; Chicago; Scottsdale, Arizona; and Beverly Hills, California, are more encouraging, but also reveal underbaked and undersalted versions made--horror of horrors--with cinnamon sugar, raisins, and blueberries. Her investigation achieves moving resolution, however, in the person of Pesach Szsemunz, an ex-Bialystoker and bialy baker who survived Auschwitz, Dachau, and "other concentration camps" and now lives in Australia. "In 1941," he writes Sheraton, "the Nazis came to us, and since then there are no more Bialystoker kuchen, no more kuchen bakeries, and no more Bialystok Jews. [No other] Bialystoker," he adds, "can tell you more." Yet, as Sheraton reveals in her touching book, bialys do live on, delighting those who eat them--a tribute to endurance itself and the power of everyday life. --Arthur Boehm
From Library Journal
The bialy is a small, round yeast bread with an indentation in the center, topped with onions and, sometimes, poppy seeds. This bread was a staple of the 60,000 Jews who lived in Bialystok, a city in northeastern Poland, before they were murdered or forced to flee during the Holocaust. After having discovered the bialy in New York, Sheraton, cookbook author (Food Markets of the World) and former New York Times food critic, set out to investigate the history of this salty, crusty bread. She began her quest in 1992 with a visit to Bialystok, where she found a Jewish population of fiveDand no bialys. Undaunted, she tracked down and spoke with former Bialystokers throughout the world. With warmth and candor, Sheraton records her aging interviewees' memories, allowing them their anger as well as their longing for the bread of their lost home. A bialy recipe is included. Highly recommended.DJane la Plante, Minot State Univ., ND
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Bialystock's pre-War Jewish community was destroyed by Nazi invaders in one of the most brutal episodes of the terrible War. Ms. Sheraton managed to interview several survivors of the War, some who emigrated before the War and many of the community's offspring. In the U.S., components survive from what became a thriving expatriate community by the late nineteenth century, organizing a synagogue in 1865 and acquiring its present structure on the Lower East Side of Manhattan in 1905 (at 7 Willett St., see [www (dot) bialystoker (dot) org (slash) history.htm]).
For a reader seeking authentic bialys of pre-War Bialystock and the early twentieth century in the U.S., Ms. Sheraton offers only a few hints. Bakers made them larger than ones common today, she writes, perhaps about 15 cm diameter versus about 10 cm common now. Crusts were baked crisper and darker than now, and flakes of onion emerged toasted, while "puffy, soft" interiors of the rims were maintained. A coat of poppy seeds tended to be the rule rather than the exception that it is now. However, her informers who remembered the past also conveyed that there was no one invariable style but a sea of differences, varying with neighborhoods and bakers.
Unfortunately, Ms. Sheraton was not experienced at baking bread when conducting research for the book and so missed opportunities to ask questions that would interest bakers trying to recreate bialys as they were made in bygone days. A recent survey of the bakeries operating today that Ms. Sheraton cites turns up the shortcomings that she documented. Even Kossar's bakery on Grand St. in New York City--her favorite during the 1990s--has not recovered so far from compromising their products over the years since that era.
In an epilogue at the end of the book, Ms. Sheraton attempts a recipe for baking good bialys in small batches. However, proportions are strange, and critical elements appear garbled. She says batches at Kossar's in the 1990s were 100 lb. flour, 7 gal. (58 lb.) water, 2 lb. salt and 1 lb. cake yeast. However, her recipe calls for 80 percent as much water by weight as flour--not 58 percent--and 4.4 percent as much salt--not 2.0 percent. Kneading such a mixture as much as indicated, if one can manage to do that, will produce an extremely sticky, slippery dough as elastic as a bungee cord--almost impossible to shape.
Good for using in a quest.
I use her bounce test to rate bagels and bialys now
Appreciate the recipe, with it I am getting beyond what is available locally.