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Food for Thought
Playing With Matches: Jewish Deli Ephemera
Hot pastrami. Three decker sandwiches with chopped liver, corned beef, tomatoes and bermuda onion. Hungarian beef goulash with noodles. Stuffed derma with kasha. These artery-clogging delicacies are no longer available at the Stage Delicatessen, which closed late last year after 75 years as a New York City landmark. The Stage was one of the relatively few remaining "Jewish-style" (but decidedly unkosher) delicatessens in New York.
It may be cold comfort for deli lovers, but the Dorot Jewish Division has been documenting the phenomenon of the Jewish deli in North America for some time. There are deli-related cookbooks and histories, of course, such as The 2nd Ave. Deli Cookbook, The Dilly Deli Guide and Cookbook, The Mile End Cookbook, 25 Unorthodox Things to Do With a Hebrew National Salami, and Schwartz's Hebrew Delicatessen: The Story. There are examples of "foodie mysteries" like Delia Rosen's A Killer in the Rye. And for a lively guide to Jewish delis, try David Sax's Save the Deli: In Search of Perfect Pastrami, Crusty Rye, and the Heart of the Jewish Delicatessen. The most colorful part of our deli collection, though, is our ephemera.
Ephemera—the word comes from the Greek, meaning "for a day"—are paper items printed to announce, condemn, or advertise something, and therefore not intended to last very long. Examples include posters, menus, political broadsides, and postcards. Because ephemera are often lost or discarded soon after they're printed, they are prized by collectors and libraries; they give a snapshot of everyday life in a certain place and time.Among the Jewish Division's deli ephemera is a small but growing collection of matchbook covers. Because smoking in restaurants is, thankfully, banned in many cities, it's no longer common for delis to advertise themselves on matchbooks. In the old days, though, matchbooks were a vivid memento of delis.
Still have a hankering for pastrami on rye? Don't worry—there are still some great Jewish-style delis around, and one of them, Katz's, is celebrating its 125th anniversary.