Peanut Butter and Purple Onions

Sounds crazy until you try it.

Monday, April 17, 2006

NY Nosh in the Lower East Side

When she found the walking tour, Devorit was almost beside herself with excitement. “LOOKLOOKLOOK!” she emailed me. “It’s like All of a Kind Family!”

Did you read those books? They’re a series of children’s books about a Jewish family living in New York’s Lower East Side soon after the turn of the century. The family has five “stair-step” girls – Ella (eldest, most responsible, sort of the Elizabeth Wakefield of the group), Henrietta (wild, rambunctious, Jessica to Ella’s Elizabeth), Sarah (grave middle child, with a stubborn streak), Gertie, and Charlotte (indistinguishable adorable rapscallions, as I recall). Each book was made up of many stories, told from different sisters’ points of view and filled with fascinating detail about New York in general and the LES in particular. Devorit and I were mesmerized by these books, and especially by the Jewish holidays and rituals they described. Sure, we knew about Passover and Hannukah, but Purim, Succos, and Yom Kippur were less familiar. And the food! I think my love affair with Jewish food started with the descriptions of the food of the LES – pickles, gefilte fish, chicken soup with rice, candied grapes and oranges, the barrel of broken crackers and sugar babies that Gertie and Charlotte saved their pennies for (although did they ever get in trouble when Mama found the crumbs from their midnight feast in their bed!).

(I won’t speak for Devorit, but when I first learned that we are one-eighth Jewish, one of my first thoughts was of a happy near-kinship with the All of a Kind Family girls.)

So when Devorit found this walking tour, we obviously had to go. And I can’t recommend it highly enough. We were lucky to have Susan, our guide, entirely to ourselves for three sunny hours. She conducts several tours, and we chose the one called NY Nosh – a walking and tasting history of the Jewish community of the LES. She was a treasure trove of detailed information (and didn’t even seem to mind our penchant for snapping pictures).

Some of the afternoon’s tidbits…

A mushroom knish at Yonah Schimmel's knishery, which has been serving up gloriously sticky and dense knishes for a century.

Gorgeous sides of sable at Russ & Daughters, open for just about as long. I thought I liked smoked salmon best until I tasted this.

A savory onion bialy, chewy and mellower than the pile of onions would suggest, almost like pizza crust.

And a quartet of salty offerings from The Pickle Guys -- from left to right, a green tomato pickle (shudder), then a full sour, a half-sour, and a new pickle. The sour was the Platonic ideal of a kosher pickle, in my opinion (and not so much as a sprig of dill ever came near it), but the new pickle had a pleasant, refreshing taste -- a very crunchy, slightly salty cucumber. (Let's not talk about the green tomato pickle.)

Cannot recommend this walking tour highly enough -- and you may even find yourself looking up All of a Kind Family at the library.


  • At 1:04 AM, Anonymous vanessa said…

    it has been too long since my last proper knish. i have to deal with the frozen stuff from NYC to get anything close. i'll just live vicariously through you.

  • At 9:03 AM, Blogger BNA said…

    I will be happy to take that grim duty on for you,, which kind should I be focusing on?

  • At 2:22 PM, Anonymous Luisa said…

    I LOVED All of a Kind Family. Was obsessed with those books as a kid! Ella's still one of my favorite names in the world...

  • At 2:18 PM, Anonymous Tania said…

    This tour sounds amazing, and those photos are just yummy! When I was in NY last summer, I did a similar walking/eating tour but in Greenwich Village. Now I have to go back and do this one!

  • At 4:19 AM, Blogger Carolie said…

    I LOVED the All-of-a-Kind Family! They made this middle class WASP pre-teen seek out matzo balls and blintzes--such exotic foods to my North Carolina ears (well, grew up partly in NC, partly in Philadelphia, but still...Episcopalian in both places). Jewish soul food became (and still is) my ultimate comfort food. (And I always wanted to dye a white dress ecru with tea in a bathtub...)

  • At 2:29 PM, Blogger FJK said…

    Enjoy your blog so much, I just linked it to mine (Blog Apppetit)
    Here's the link to the post where I wrote about you:

    I remember the books. Thanks for sharing.
    Take care

  • At 4:36 PM, Blogger BNA said…

    Hi Luisa! I think I read all of those books a dozen times. I do remember being annoyed when the baby brother was born, though -- I definitely thought he was unnecessary!

    Hey Tania -- I'd love to do a Greenwich Vilalge walking/eating tour. Isn't it wonderful how the walking justifies the eating?

    Hi Wordmagix -- sounds like we had a very similar AoaKF experience growing up! And yes yes yes -- I wanted to dye a dress, too -- and I *really* wanted to borrow a pushcart.

    hi FJK -- thanks so much for the kind words and the link! We enjoy your blog very much as well. Thanks for the shout-out!

  • At 2:19 AM, Blogger the chocolate lady said…

    My clearest memory from All of a Kind Family is the nightmarish episode in which Sarah is forced to eat leftover chicken soup. This scared me out of my wits when I was little. My favorite food scene is when the girls get a paper cone of hot chickpeas--You could almost taste them. Coincidentally, I am preparing to post some chickpea recipes.
    I had the same reaction to pickled tomatoes at first, but I love 'em now. That's the flavor of longing.

  • At 2:45 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Hello -- I'm a graduate student at Yale University and am doing a project on the All-of-a-Kind Family. I'm interested in talking to adults who remember reading the books as children. If you get this and would be interested in talking to me, please send me an email at: Thanks so much.


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