Next Wednesday, November 13th, is our latest Tenement Talk, “A Headstone, A Cookbook and A Nosh.” The topic of conversation this time is Hinde Amchanitski, an immigrant entrepreneur who authored America’s first Yiddish cookbook. Many of Hinde’s recipes are easily recreated today, but some of them require somewhat outdated ingredients, like goose fat.
A little over 100 years ago, goose fat would have been easy to come by on the Lower East Side; available in butcher shops that dotted Orchard Street and beyond. But it’s 2013, and the neighborhood as well as its culinary flair, has changed quite drastically. However, I thought a wild goose [fat] chase sounded fun, so I took a little walk to the bodegas and stores in the area.
At each store, I explained that I worked with the Tenement Museum and that I was writing a blog post about the foods which were common in the neighborhood 100 years ago that aren’t common now. Most of the time I got confused smiles and polite ‘no’s. Here are the fruits of my labor:
I explained what I was looking for, and the cashier responded, “Is it available in bottles?” I was unsure, but he good naturedly told me to try somewhere else. I got the same confused look and story from GreenStar Foods on Delancey Street. I clearly needed to look somewhere with a little history behind it…
The Essex Street Market in 1940
Next stop, Essex Street Market, an indoor market comprised of over 20 independent vendors which began in the 1930’s when Mayor Fiorello La Guardia banned the practice of street cart vendors on the Lower East Side.
Saxelby Cheesemongers didn’t have any goose fat, but I suppose I was barking up the wrong tree there… Their goat cheese looked divine, though.
Thankfully, I went right after lunch so as not to be tempted by these delicious looking wares...
Formaggio Kitchen, with its selection of cheeses, dried meats hanging in the windows, and handmade pastas was next.
Formaggio came as close as possible when the cashier happily announced that they had duck fat!
The reindeer had wonderful customer service skills.
While they didn’t have any goose fat, they did sell goose liver pate, which is wonderfully modeled here.
Lib Tietjen is clearly not a professional food photographer... still looks great though!
Lastly, I tried Russ & Daughters, an appetizing store (an appetizing store traditionally means stores that sell “the foods one eats with bagels”) that has operated on the Lower East Side since 1914, just 4 years after Hinde Amchanitski died.
When I asked for goose fat, the man at the counter told me that while it’s still kosher, goose fat is not particularly common in Jewish cooking anymore, and to his knowledge, has never been sold at Russ & Daughters.
So I totally struck out with this assignment, but I did get to go on a lovely walk on the Lower East Side, and hopefully I inspired a few shopkeepers to think a little about the traditions of a very nontraditional neighborhood!