I was chatting with my cousin Jan Hurtis, a Brooklynite,
when he started sharing stories from his early years in Brooklyn. Jan is a
“Maven,” you can ask him a question on many topics and he usually gives you a
scholarly answer. I like him because I was 10-years-old when he was born and my
Mother and I brought him and his Mom home. To quote my Mom "after all these
years they still haven’t paid me for the cab fare?"
No matter how hard he tries I still see him as that little kid. So I said “Jan,
put away your baby blanket, pick up a pen and tell me your story; you’re 53
years old.” I figured he’d write a few paragraphs, but it looks like he wanted
the whole column this month, so his fat cousin Mel said..”why not? Jan, I will
hand your article to Michael Fein. I kiss your bald baby head, write in good
health. P.S. Since my Mom is gone, can you send me the money your family owes us
for taking you home from the hospital?
Growing up in Brooklyn
This month Mel asked me to put a few words to paper after the two of us were
talking about the “good old days.” By the way, Mel is my cousin.
With the exception of my school years this is the first time I have written
anything of significance, especially for publication.
My good old days started in 1952, in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn, New York.
Everyone seems to know of Flatbush. I was within walking distance of the famous
Ebbets Field, which was the baseball stadium of the BROOKLYN Dodgers, until the
Dodgers deserted Brooklyn for Los Angeles, California, in 1957 or thereabouts.
Being so young I was not aware of the ethnic rich environment that I was living
in, especially the food,and I do mean the food! There were kosher delicatessens,
appetizing, little grocery stores and bakeries on every block, but there weren’t
any bagel stores; not anywhere that I can remember.
When I went to the little grocery store with my mother she bought a pound of
farmer or pot cheese, there was no “Brie” and my mom also bought a pound of what
was called tub butter that was cut from a gigantic piece of butter. Can anyone
If you wanted a bagel or bialy, you went to the appetizing store where you
bought your lox or nova. Until I was older I never bought the nova. It was
always the salty belly lox. If I ate the belly lox today I would probably have a
In the mid 1960’s, I remember a bagel bakery opening on Flatbush and Parkside
Avenues. Everyone went to the bagel bakery for the fresh bagels. The bagel
bakery was closed for Passover and when the holiday and the services were over
at the Temple, a line formed out side of the store waiting for the fresh
Now there are bagel stores all over and the kosher delicatessens, appetizing and
little grocery stores are gone. The bagel stores of today are what I call
counterfeit bagel stores because what most of these stores sell are not real
bagels. Real bagels are made from freshly made dough, then they are kettle
boiled before they are baked in the oven causing them to be crisp on the outside
and soft on the inside. A true bagel lover would never eat a fresh hot baked
bagel from the oven; you only eat one cold or toasted. Most of today’s bagels
are just baked bread from frozen dough. As far as I’m concerned it’s a major job
trying to find a good bagel, and I will only buy bagels from bagel stores that
produce a good bagel that meets my standards.
Now, don’t let me get started about bialys; oh okay I will. The other day I
noticed a BIALY store on Queens Boulevard in Kew Gardens, so I stopped in, and
was disappointed. They didn’t even look like bialys. The perfect bialy has a
full-looking round shape around the outer rim and a defined indentation in the
center with fresh onions patted into the middle, and baked to perfection. The
only place I can get a great bialy is at Kossars bialys on the lower east side
in New York City, that’s it!
I guess these criticisms of baked goods all comes from my uncle Willie; he was
bread baker. Now, there are bread bakers and there are cake bakers and they are
different. Uncle Willie was a baker at N.E. Tells bakery on Church Avenue and
East 18th Street in Brooklyn. Since the bakery was only one block from my Public
school, and in those days you were able to go home for lunch, I went to see
Uncle Willie every day at lunchtime. Uncle Willie always had a fresh roll for
me. By the way I have the same criticisms of all baked goods, as the small local
bakery is almost non-existent. I’m lucky because there are several bakeries
within a short drive due to the large Orthodox community near by. Otherwise it
would be a 12-mile one-way drive to Rego Park.
Next time I will let you know about Pastrami!
Do you believe this? He wants to write about Patrami…the maven speaks again.
Until next month, live well, eat well and drink seltzer in good health.
Love, Mel (the fat guy)