April 11, 2007  
Growing Up In Brooklyn

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 remember that?

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 stroke.

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 bagels!!!

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)


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