The Wafting Scent of New York Deli Reaches Maine

Welcome to the Kitchen Table Series

Kurt Hoffman

By Kathy Gunst

Published March 13, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share

When my boyfriend and I left New York in 1982 to move to a small town in southern Maine, my mother joked that we would never find a temple for our children. “And where do you think you’ll get bagels and novie?” she mocked. “The Heathcote Deli is a long way from Maine!” This was a joke for several reasons. We didn’t have children. We never went to synagogue. And we were not looking to replace my childhood deli from Scarsdale, New York. We could have lobster whenever we wanted.

My mother had no idea just how prescient her remarks would be. Fifteen years later we were married with two daughters. We were one of the only Jewish families in town. When Maya, our oldest, entered kindergarten she was the only Jewish child in a public school of more than 700 students.

Being Jewish took on new meaning. I was invited to visit her class every Hanukkah and Passover to share something about our “exotic” traditions. I fried latkes and brought matzo into her classroom.

The problem was that I had very little Jewish education. And in fourth grade, when Maya asked if she and her sister, Emma, could go to temple, we found a small synagogue nearby with a welcoming group of families. We went to Shabbat services nearly every week, learned the songs and prayers and, through our children, discovered something of what it means to be Jewish.

My daughters were the first women on either side of the family to be bat mitzvahed. When it was time for Maya’s big day, we wanted to serve traditional deli foods for her luncheon. But my mother’s remarks once again came to haunt us. Finding nova, good bagels and whitefish in northern New England (in the late 1990s) was something of a challenge. And while I have spent my entire career in the food world, I still needed help. I reached out to the Heathcote Deli in my hometown to ask them what they might recommend. When I got the owner on the phone and told him I grew up at the deli and explained our plight, he said, “If you pay for the gas, we’ll drive to Maine and bring you the real thing.”

As the day drew closer and Maya mastered her Torah portion and picked out her outfit, and relatives made travel plans, I thought endlessly about the delicacies that would soon be en route to southern Maine. I thought of my mother, gone for over a decade, and how this would make her happy.

The September morning of the bat mitzvah was one of those perfect fall days — sunny and clear, with the first hint of an autumnal breeze. We woke early, excited, anxious. And then, just before 8 a.m., the doorbell rang. Who is here this early? I wondered. I looked out the window and saw a small truck parked in our unpaved driveway.

“Yeah, someone order deli?” the Heathcote Deli driver asked. I almost wept to hear his thick New York accent. “Um, yeah, you’re at the right place,” I told him. As he unloaded black plastic trays piled high with silky, buttery smoked salmon, fat and flakey whitefish, chewy bagels and scallion cream cheese and, finally, containers of the deli’s famed whitefish salad, I realized he must have left New York at three in the morning in order to make the delivery on time. When the last tray of food was unloaded into the kitchen, I invited the driver in for coffee and breakfast.

“Nah, gotta get back to the deli,” he told me, as if he had just driven a few blocks. I tipped him generously and thanked him over and over. He looked at me like I was crazy. He had no idea what those platters and the briny scent of my childhood meant to me.

Kathy Gunst is the author of 14 cookbooks. Her latest is “Notes From a Maine Kitchen.”

Whitefish Salad

Serves 4

This is not the whitefish salad of my childhood, but my version with fresh dill, lemon, parsley, and mayonnaise. Serve with toasted bagels, thin black bread, or on top of tender, buttery lettuce leaves.

13 ounces whitefish (half a whole whitefish; I prefer the tail end)
1 tablespoon fresh dill, finely chopped
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh parsley, finely chopped
3 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Freshly ground black pepper

1) Remove the fish skin and carefully pull the fish meat from the bones. Using your hands, separate the whitefish into thin shreds. You should have about 1 1/2 cups whitefish.

2) In a small bowl, mix the dill, parsley, mayonnaise, lemon juice, and pepper to taste. Gently fold in the whitefish and serve. Keep refrigerated if you aren’t serving immediately.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • At which grade level should classroom discussions include topics like the death of civilians kidnapping of young Israelis and sirens warning of incoming rockets?
  • Wanted: Met Council CEO.
  • “Look, on the one hand, I understand him,” says Rivka Ben-Pazi, a niece of Elchanan Hameiri, the boy that Henk Zanoli saved. “He had a family tragedy.” But on the other hand, she said, “I think he was wrong.” What do you think?
  • How about a side of Hitler with your spaghetti?
  • Why "Be fruitful and multiply" isn't as simple as it seems:
  • William Schabas may be the least of Israel's problems.
  • You've heard of the #IceBucketChallenge, but Forward publisher Sam Norich has something better: a #SoupBucketChallenge (complete with matzo balls!) Jon Stewart, Sarah Silverman & David Remnick, you have 24 hours!
  • Did Hamas just take credit for kidnapping the three Israeli teens?
  • "We know what it means to be in the headlines. We know what it feels like when the world sits idly by and watches the news from the luxury of their living room couches. We know the pain of silence. We know the agony of inaction."
  • When YA romance becomes "Hasidsploitation":
  • "I am wrapping up the summer with a beach vacation with my non-Jewish in-laws. They’re good people and real leftists who try to live the values they preach. This was a quality I admired, until the latest war in Gaza. Now they are adamant that American Jews need to take more responsibility for the deaths in Gaza. They are educated people who understand the political complexity, but I don’t think they get the emotional complexity of being an American Jew who is capable of criticizing Israel but still feels a deep connection to it. How can I get this across to them?"
  • “'I made a new friend,' my son told his grandfather later that day. 'I don’t know her name, but she was very nice. We met on the bus.' Welcome to Israel."
  • A Jewish female sword swallower. It's as cool as it sounds (and looks)!
  • Why did David Menachem Gordon join the IDF? In his own words: "The Israel Defense Forces is an army that fights for her nation’s survival and the absence of its warriors equals destruction from numerous regional foes. America is not quite under the threat of total annihilation… Simply put, I felt I was needed more in Israel than in the United States."
  • Leonard Fein's most enduring legacy may be his rejection of dualism: the idea that Jews must choose between assertiveness and compassion, between tribalism and universalism. Steven M. Cohen remembers a great Jewish progressive:
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.