Eric Kenneway on why the blintz is so called.
The following talk was given at the Cobden Hotel, Birmingham, during the Autumn Convention, October, 1986.
When translating Nakano’s ‘Easy Origami’ (Viking Kestrel, 1985), one of the things I had to consider was what to do about the Japanese word ‘zabuton-ori’. I could have translated it literally as ‘cushion fold’, but we know it as the blintz. By ‘we’ I mean paperfolders and not the rest of the British public, ninety-nine percent of whom are completely unfamiliar with the word. The remaining one percent consists of the Jewish community and, I shall argue, they don’t understand it to have anything to do with folding corners to the centre of anything.
In the end I stayed with ‘blintz’ in my translation. It’s become part of the British paperfolders vocabulary because we learnt it from American paperfolders; they use it because they eat them. (Blintzes are pancakes which contain a cheese or other filling. Blinchiki, the ancestors of blintzes, originated in the Ukraine and were introduced into other parts of Eastern Europe and ultimately North America by Jewish emigrants.) All the same, it seems a bit silly to substitute one foreign word for another foreign word (you won’t find ‘blintz’ in English dictionaries), particularly if we use it in a way which misleads those people who are familiar with it.
I first questioned the way we use ‘blintz’ in an article entitled ‘American Cuisine and Base Nomenclature’, British Origami No.31 (1971). I quoted from a piece in ‘The Observer’ magazine (4 July, 1971) on American cooking. Therein it said that blintzes are rolled: there was no mention of corners being folded to the centre. Subsequently I had an opportunity to lay my hands on a lot of Jewish cookbooks. I now have a collection of blintz recipes from stodgy, traditional, fried blintzes to the new healthy, lightly baked ones. I was of course concerned not with the cooking, but to find out what the authors had to say about getting a blintz from a large pan on to a small plate. This is what I discovered:
Joan Nathan in ‘The Jewish Holiday Kitche’ (Schoken Books, NY, 1979) says, “Tuck in the opposite sides and roll up like a jelly roll.” (Jelly roll is American English for Swiss roll.)
Jane Kinderlehrer, in ‘Cooking Kosher the Natural Way’ (Jonathan David, Middle Village, NY), distinguishes between the pastry and the filling. In her recipes for blintzes, she calls the pastry a ‘bletl’. So as it’s the pastry which is equivalent to origami paper, perhaps paperfolders should use ‘bletl’ instead of ‘blintz’. That’s assuming that the bletl is folded, but what does she say? She says, “Roll up …”
Evelyn Rose is the leading Anglo-Jewish write and broadcaster on cooking at present. In her ‘Complete International Jewish Cookbook’ (Robson Books, reprinted 1984) she spells ‘blintze’ with an ‘e’ and she says, “Turn in to enclose and roll up.” Blu Greenberg, in her ‘How to Run a Traditional Jewish Household’ (Simon & Schuster, NY, 1983), gives the clearest set of instructions so far. She says, “Place the cheese filling on one end of each leaf, and start rolling the dough over the cheese. Then fold over the sides, and continue rolling until you have a blintz, neatly sealed.”
A new element is introduced by Anne London and Bertha K. Bishov in their ‘Complete Jewish Cookbook’ (W. H. Allen, reprinted 1983). The authors tell us to “fold edges over to form envelope” for a cheese blintz, but for a different recipe for use during Passover, the authors conclude, “… fold sides in and roll up.” Does this mean that whether you fold or roll the blintz (or bletl) depends on whether you serve it on a feast or a fast day? I’ve checked: apparently not.
Florence Greenberg is the only author doesn’t mention rolling up. She was of an earlier generation and died a few years ago at the age of ninety-nine. In her ‘Jewish Cookbook’ (Hamlyn, reprinted 1985), for a meat blintz, she says, “Fold in half and then in half again into three-corner pieces.” Elsewhere in the book, for a blintz with another type of filling, she says, “Fold over into a triangle or …” apparently as an afterthought, “… envelope shape.” That’s three different treatments from her.
So these sources contain one reference to a triangle shape; one to a doubled triangle shape; two to an envelope shape and six to rolling up. The envelope shape is outnumbered by 5 to 1 and the rolling up technique clearly comes out on top. This is confirmed by my researches among Jewish housewives: they all say they roll it.
The scene now moves to Grenoble and the FIPP exhibition in November, 1983. American expatriate Gershon Legman, who claims responsibility for introducing ‘blintz’ to the origami world in the 1950’s was present. I told him of my doubts about its usage. He replied that, yes indeed, his own mother had said he’d got it wrong. She had once asked him. “Why didn’t you call it a dolken?” I reported this in my addenda to the ‘ABC of Origami’, but when I returned to the above cookbooks (and Jewish housewives) I couldn’t find the word ‘dolken’ anywhere. Nobody had heard of it. I began to feel that I was probably the victim of a Legman leg-pull.
The scene now moves to Israel where the search continued. Michael Asheri is both the author of a 400 page-plus book called ‘Living Jewish: The Lore and Law of the Practicing Jew’ (Dodd, Mead & Co, NY, 1978) and a keen paperfolder (He also rolls up his blintzes). I put the problem to him. Should what we call a blintz really be called a dolken? Had he heard of such a thing? I am very grateful to Mr. Asheri for entering into the spirit of the chase and for sending me such a full reply. This is what he wrote (2 March 1986):
“… I confess I shared your scepticism. The word DOLKEN was quite unknown to me and to a few other people I asked, but I felt I had better check. Weinreich’s Yiddish-English: English-Yiddish dictionary failed to show it, but I had no real expectation that it would. Harkavy’s Yiddish-English dictionary is far more exhaustive, but even there nothing appeared. I then made a careful check of Stuchkoff’s monumental OITZER FUN DER YIDDISHER SHPRACH, generally conceded to be the most complete treatise on the vocabulary of Yiddish, but all to no avail: there was nothing to suggest that such a word as DOLKEN had ever graced our Mameloshen (mother tongue). And mind you, I looked not only under DOLKEN, but under DULKEN, DOLKIEN, TOLKEN, TULKEN, etc, etc.
“Finally I made a painstaking search of a book by Mordecai Kosover, one of the most qualified and thorough scholars of the Yiddish language. The book is called YIDDISHE MAYCHOLIM (Jewish Dishes). I had read it but it had been sitting on my shelves unopened for some years. On page 30, I found a long disquisition on a rare book MAKOR HABRACHA (Wellspring of Blessing), published in Munkacs some hundred years ago (1885). Kosover remarks concerning this book that it casts light on a corner of Easter European Jewry, passed by the mainstream of Jewish development in modern times. Among other things he observes that since Slovakia was part of the Austro-Hungarian empire, the list of dishes in the book reflects the relative economic wellbeing of the Jews in the region and ‘is full of eatables and baked goods unknown elsewhere’.
“On page 18-b of MAKOR HABRACHA, appears the following heading: ‘Knishes (Dolken) … filled with cheese ..’ (etc.) There it was! There can be no doubt that it is an extremely rare word, apparently a local term for the well-known ‘knish’, but that it is (or was) part of the Yiddish vocabulary, however regional and restricted, is not open to doubt. To my knowledge this is the only reference in print anywhere to the word.
“… And of course, Mrs. Legman is right: the knish is made by folding four corners of a square piece of dough to the center, over a filling. If we discard the word DOLKEN as archaic or at least extremely rare, the expression ‘knish-fold’ meaning the same thing, would be correct. Mr. Asheri goes on to say that he would be most interested to know if Gershon Legman’s mother came from Munkacs or thereabouts.
To sum up: 1) the way we use the word ‘blintz’ is misleading, to say the least. It would be more helpful if we reserved it for use in conjunction with the double-looped arrow to mean ‘fold over and over’; 2) what we call a blintz could be more accurately called a ‘knish-fold’ and 3) my researches have shown me that there is a whole world of exotic, difficult-to-pronounce names in Jewish cooking which paperfolders could draw upon. Just one example: we could call a square folded diagonally in half a ‘kreplich-fold’. And we haven’t even started on Danish pastries and Italian pasta yet.
Since this article was written, blintz has been added to Chambers Twentieth Century Dictionary and the Oxford English Dictionary, at least, they were the ones that I checked. Both describe it as a pancake, no mention of paperfolding whatsoever!