Laura Silver is a woman on a mission. When her favorite knish bakery, Mrs. Stahl’s, closed, she embarked on a round-the-world quest for the origins and modern-day manifestations of the knish that would take her from Brighton Beach to Jersey and across three continents. Her forthcoming book about her journey, Knish: In Search of the Jewish Soul Food, will be available from Brandeis University Press on May 6, 2014. In this excerpt, we meet, and lose, Mrs. Stahl’s and Fritzie Silver, the author’s grandmother.

The knish situation in Brooklyn is not what it once was. I can say that because I’m third-generation Brooklyn, once removed. Queens, where I was born, had knishes, too, tons of them. I took them for granted, then they were gone.

More than latkes, matzoh, or the apple-and-walnut charoset that crowned the seder plate, knishes were my family’s religion. For knishes, we went on… More…

IncrEdibles thankfully didn’t last long, but their blip of an existence makes a point: if a food product as extremely stupid as this can make it to market, that says a lot about our, well, stomach for convenience foods. Basically, we eat a lot of them. And while one might hope that the belt-tightening from the recession steered us away from them, it might be pushing us to eat more: In mid-2009, Mark Bittman and Kerri Conan wrote on the Bitten blog about how, while people are eating out less, Kellogg’s CEO David Mackay has claimed that people are actually turning more to packaged foods instead of cooking.

I’ve had both Kellogg’s and convenience foods on my mind recently because of the new year. See, it’s resolution time, which means all across America, people have promised that they’ll eat better in 2010.  For many, part of that promise is that… More…

That’s right, together: I have flour-fear issues, too.

My issue has traditionally been a fear of refined carbs. I love baking and eating baked goods, but I’m a whole grain girl. It’s not a bad thing to be. When companies make white flour, they remove the fiber-filled wheat bran and high-nutrient wheat germ from the kernel, leaving the low-nutrient endosperm. When you eat white flour, not only are you getting fewer nutrients, but white flour also takes less time for your body to process. Thus, as the women’s magazines at my gym scream in perky pink fonts, “Whole grains make you feel fuller longer!”

I’m also a frequent baker, and, like an egomaniac who always inserts his personal experiences into the most impersonal conversations, I put whole wheat flour in places where nobody ever asked it to be. Tucking it inside my breads is reasonable, but I also put it… More…

In these days of 200-mile locavore meals and freshness trumping shelf life so much of the time, why does canned pumpkin remain so firmly entrenched in our lives? It’s not like we’re just talking about some starchy tuber like the potato. This is the pumpkin, the friendly fruit that makes a dessert arguably more American than apple pie. But when it comes time to put pumpkin in the oven, recipe hockers from Sandra Lee to Saveur open the can.

Obviously, it wasn’t always this way. The pumpkin was used in uncanned form by the Native Americans, who not only ate it, but also wove dry pumpkin strips into mats. When the colonists showed up on the scene, hungry and sick of boats, they incorporated the pumpkin into their cuisine. According to the Cooperative Extension at the University of Illinois, “The origin of pumpkin pie occurred when the colonists sliced off… More…

Likewise, I would happily rub out any of the new-fangled Hershey’s products that wear the wrappers and take the shapes of chocolate, but are in actuality the terrible bastard children of chocolate and corporate frugality. Yup, that’s right: If you weren’t already aware, there’s a good chance that the “chocolate” you’re buying from Hershey’s isn’t chocolate at all. See, back in 2008, Hershey’s started replacing some of the cocoa butter in its products with a combination of cocoa butter and other vegetable oils. Using other vegetable oils is cheaper for companies, which explains why a bag of the aforementioned Palmer’s always costs a dollar or two less than actual chocolate. But those “chocolate” products taste cheaper, too, as do most foods when unnecessary ingredients complicate their simple recipes. See, the process of making a good chocolate only requires a few steps: Cacao pods are roasted, ground, and made into chocolate… More…

I like English muffins. Some mornings they’re the only breakfast food that feels right: just filling enough, covered with butter and jam that melts into the nooks and crannies Thomas’ has taught us to love so much. But I will admit that even though I bake my own bread and boil my own bagels, I’ve always been content to buy English muffins from the store. I just assumed that since I’ve never heard about anyone making their own English muffins, the process was too difficult to do at home. In my mind, English muffin factories employed multi-million-dollar industrial nook-and-cranny machines. Without such complicated machinary, I thought, home bakers such as myself were simply SOL.

The truth is that like most bread products, English muffins are easy enough to make at home. But when I decided to tackle English muffins, a simple Google search for a basic English muffin recipe raised… More…

Baking can no doubt be complicated. If you are impatient and refuse to let eggs and dairy come to room temperature before mixing, your cake batter can curdle. You can set off the smoke detector trying to caramelize sugar. But really the worst thing you could possibly do is mistake salt for sugar, and that only seems to happen in movies to illustrate how unsuitable a woman would be as a wife and mother. If it happens in real life, just shrug it off and declare that you weren’t making cupcakes anyway — you were making adorable, portable weapons.

Baking is mostly forgiving. Frosting beautifully disguises a cake that didn’t rise evenly. Ugly piecrust can be covered with ice cream and no one will complain. Even failures like, “Oh crap, I forgot to add the sugar to the bread pudding” (which, yes, I have done) can be rescued with a… More…