Thursday, August 16, 2007

Peanut butter, rye bread, deli, and two blogs

If you've been following my rantings, you know I've been thinking about pastrami. So naturally, New York, Jewish rye bread can't be far from my thoughts. I don't know where to find the real thing around here. I've tried making my own - so far without great success.

So there I was chasing down leads in the web when I came across a 6 year old story from Buffalo about the demise of a once great rye. I started corresponding with the author and found my way to this story about peanut butter at his blog. He got me thinking again about Planter's Peanut Butter - once truly great and sadly long off the market. I was originally introduced to this amazing product by my boyhood friend (now Rabbi) Steve Vale. Does anybody else remember this stuff? Planter's Peanut was so good, it was best enjoyed with a spoon. Forget the bread, eschew the jam...I'm noshstalgic.

And then there was this morning's startling discovery of the truly impressive body of work at Save the Deli. I can't believe the work this guy, David Sax, has done. Since the start of 2007, he's ventured forth from his home base in Toronto to sample and document the wares of delis all over North America and even into Europe. What a Herculean effort and (of course) what a worthy - make that vital - cause.

Words from his opening post last January -
"...Save the Deli, a space dedicated to the preservation of the finest salted, cured, fatty Jewish treats to grace the world’s tongues.

I write with an urgency in my first post, because we are living in desperate times. The Jewish delicatessen, that treasured temple of scuffed formica, sawdust floors, and nose ticking garlic aroma, is dying. Where once Jewish delis numbered in the thousands, today there are scarcely a hundred scattered around the Diaspora. Just look to New York, the once teeming capital of deli. Barely a dozen remain in Manhattan. A handful in Brooklyn. A mere pair in the Bronx.

From Paris to Montreal, Chicago to Antwerp, London to Miami…the deli is dying. Recent casualties have included Ben’s in Montreal, the 2nd Ave Deli in New York’s East Village, and soon Rascal House in Miami Beach. Restaurants which were anchors of stability in cities have been uprooted and expelled, paved over by the bulldozer of history. They have been felled by increased rent, slim margins, a health conscious (and slightly maniacal) eating culture, and assimilation. Delis now serve sushi and spring rolls, while items like rolled beef, braised ribs, and schmaltz herring have fled from menus.

At the current rate, the Jewish deli as an institution is facing the very real possibility of extinction. In ten, twenty, or fifty years, how many delis will your city have? Where do you think you’ll go for a pastrami sandwich, a bowl of matzo ball soup, and a few full sour kosher dills? Friday’s? Sizzler? Wal-Mart? Forget it.

And so, the arduous march begins…a grassroots campaign of love and preservation with the aim of saving the Jewish delicatessen from extinction."

That young man, David Sax, is my hero.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

David Sax is the embodiment of a one man army championing a cause that's so near and dear to many of us. More to the point, he's able to articulate what so many of us are thinking and, thus, has become the representative of our collective, nostalgic Jewish voices.