The Lister List

The Blintz

Dorothy Engleman (Hi Dorothy!) asked: "Did the term "Blintz Fold" originate with Lillian Oppenheimer? Didn't she coin "Minor Miracle?"

No, the term Blintz was applied to the fold where all four corners are folded to the centre by Gershon Legman. He got the term from his mother, or thought he had done so, but she later told him that he had mixed up his terms. He should have use the word "Dolken". ("Knish" is another word for "Dolken", apparently from a different ethnic tradition.) As I understand it, a true "Blintz" in cooking is a pancake with the filling placed in the middle It is then rolled up like a sausage roll and the two ends (which do not have any filling) are folded under the roll. Loaves of bread and parcels are often wrapped in the same way, here in England. So Gershon got it wrong, but by the time his mother put him right it was too late and the name "Blintz" had already become indelibly linked to the four corners to the centre paperfolding "Base".

Gershon Legman wrote a series of short articles called "Secrets of the Blintz" in Dokuohtei Nakano's short-lived publication, "The Origami Companion" (about 1973). Already, because of Gershon's association with the word "Blintz" some people thought that he had invented the Blintz Fold itself. This was, of course, nonsense and he tried to put them right. He did, however, go on to suggest to George Rhoades, whom he met in Paris, in the mid 1950s that the common basic folds might be folded on square paper that had previously been blintzed. George went on a visit to Spain and came back with the "Blintzed Bird Base", which he later used to fold the classic still known as Rhoades' Elephant. The four corners to the centre fold has been known in traditional folding for centuries.

The Froebelian School of folding used it as the basis for most of their "Folds of Beauty". It appears as early as pages 2 and 3 in Margaret Campbell's book "Paper Toy Making" (undated, but either 1936 or 1937), but she did not include it among the four "Foundation Folds" which she adopts for her book. Robert Harbin included it in "Paper Magic" (1956) as his "Basic Fold One", one of six basic folds some of which, but not all are the same as our "Classic Bases". Sam Randlett and Robert Harbin later hammered out basic techniques and terminology (Sam was undoubtedly the leading force for this) revising the techniques and terminology contained in "Paper Magic" and linking them with Yoshizawa's techniques and symbols which had by now become known in the West. Sam adopted Gershon Legman's term, "Blintz Base".

The system was published in Sam Randlett's "The Art of Origami" (1961), which was so influential that it the names and symbols it put forward became accepted as standard. (It is often called the Yoshizawa-Randlett system, but this is unjust to Robert Harbin who had done much of the spadework in "Paper Magic" six years earlier and who collaborated with Sam by post.) So, with the publication of the Yoshizawa-Harbin-Randlett system in "The Art of Origami", the work "Blintz" became indelibly established in general paperfolding usage in the West, perpetuating Gershon Legman's apparently mistaken use of the word "Blintz" That is, unless, as I suggested in my posting yesterday, these terms varied in different parts of Europe.

Undoubtedly, Gershon got it wrong so far as his own family tradition was concerned, but it is just possible that he got it right according to other traditions. In the East, origami symbols and terminology were worked out separately form the West by Akira Yoshizawa and Kosho Uchiyama working independently in their books, "Origami Dokuhon I" (1957) and "Origami Zukan" (1958), respectively. I understand that the "Blintz" is known in Japan as the "Cushion Fold", but when this name was applied, I do not know. And the part played by Lillian Oppenheimer? She certainly introduced the use of the word "Origami" to the West. It was her deliberate doing. But she merely adopted the word "blintz" from Gershon Legman. Just when she did this needs further research in the early copies of "The Origamian" and other sources. But "The Art of Origami" was published in the United States only three years after the Origami Center was founded and that clinched the matter.

"Minor Miracle" is a term that was never adopted, at any rate on regular basis, in the British Origami Society, and I understand that it is true that it made its appearance at the meetings of the Origami Center at Lillian's apartment in New York. Just when, I don't know. Perhaps someone who regularly attended Lillian's "Origami Mondays" could tell us more. I understand that it is merely another term for a "Colour Change", itself a technique which post-dated "The Art of Origami". I shall be most grateful for any information at all that any one can give about different usages of the words "blintz", "dolmen" and "knish". Mulling this over is like wandering down a delightful and unexpected country lane turning off the main highway we call "Origami".

I was excited (yes, I think I can use that word) to receive Lars posting this morning in which he wrote that in his younger days in Canada there was a local German bakery shop that sold delicious blintzes under that name but with the corners folded in. This coincided with a report I had received in England, from a young lady who had spent some time in Canada.

I have now found my own note on the matter the occasion was the BOS spring convention at Birmingham on 4th April, 1993. The young lady who spoke to me was called Sharon Butler and she lived in south eastern London.

She told me that until 1993 she had been married to a man who taught Russian. They went to live in Hamilton Ontario, where they organised social events where Jewish food was offered.

One type of the dishes was Blinis, which she described as very thin pancakes, rolled up with fillings.

Another type was "Blintzes", which could be folded in two ways. One way was to fold the sides of the pancake to the centre in thirds with the ends then flipped under.

The second type of blintz had the corners folded to the centre, like the familiar origami "blintz fold".

I was careful to note that this conflicted with what Eric Kenneway had written and I was reluctant to accept it without further verification. Now that verification has come from Lar!

For those with access to earlier editions of British Origami, Eric Kenneway wrote two articles. A short one is in No 31 (1971) where he refers to an article on American cooking in the Observer Magazine for 4th July, 1971. His longer article with the results of his research is in British Origami No. 121 for December, 1986, pages 21 to 24.

I still think that it is desirable that further confirmation should be obtained. Does anyone live in Hamilton and could they make enquiries there, among the bakeries and the Jewish population?

It would be very interesting to discover from which part of eastern Europe the original baker and his customers came from.

Gershon Legman's mother came from that part of Hungary near the Romanian border. So it was a long way from the region where "dolken" was reported to be a very local word. It would seem that this terminology of pancakes was much looser and more diverse than we have been led to believe.

 I hope that others will join in the enquiry be asking their Jewish friends and relatives (especially the older ones) what they can tell us.

Thank you very much, Lar.

Paula from Holland asks why the word "blintz" was chosen for the four-corners-to-the-centre fold instead of the Japanese term " Zabuton", a pillow.

 As is well-known, the term "Blintz" was adopted many years ago, not later than the mid 1950s, and certainly before Robert Harbin published his book "paper Magic" in 1956. Legman adopted the term because the fold resembled the folded pancake, which he was under the impression was called a "blintz". He was later told by his mother that he had chosen the wrong word. She is reported to have asked him why he didn't call the pancake with four corners folded to the centre, a "dolken". By common usage, a blintz was a rolled pancake with the ends of the roll folded over. A better known name for the pancake with the four corners folded to the centre was pancake was a "knish".

The name "dolken" puzzled Eric Kenneway. At that time, although a Gentile, he had a job with the Jewish Chronicle of London, where he had access to Jewish cookery books. They did not, however, give him the answers he was seeking. He could not find either the word "blintz" or the word "dolken" in English dictionaries. By chance, he had become acquainted with Michael Asheri who was a paper folder living in Israel. Michael Asheri happened to be an expert on Jewish culture and he was the author of "Living Jewish: the Lore and Law of the Practising Jew", which had been published in New York in 1978.

 Michael Asheri told Eric that he rolled his blintzes, but that he did not know the word "dolken". However, he carried out an intensive search in the many books on Jewish culture and the Yiddish language available to him. At last he found the answer in a rare book called "Makor Habracha" ("Wellspring of Blessing"). There he found that "dolken" was an extremely rare Yiddish word, apparently from part of Slovakia where it was a very local name for the well-known "knish"

Although he was born in Scranton, Pennsylvania in 1911, Gershon Legman was, himself, a Jew. His parents had come to the United States from Hungary, before he was born. As a young man he moved to work in New York and it was apparently there, in 1945, that he suffered an accident to his leg when he fell from a tree while rescuing a cat. During his confinement he spent his time folding paper and became very enthusiastic about it. It led him to carry on intense research in libraries. In 1953, he left the United States and went to live in France, soon settling in the south of France, near the Mediterranean. Also in 1953, he managed to make contact with Akira Yoshizawa, whose new style of folding came as a revelation to him. Legman had already come across a fair number of Japanese books on origami, but Yoshizawa's genius made him an enthusiast for Japanese folding.

At this time Legman knew little, if anything of the Japanese language. When he needed terms for frequent moves in folding, he took whatever words were to hand. One of them was the word "blintz", with which he had been familiar since his childhood. The fact that he made a mistake and use the wrong word was, perhaps, unfortunate. It was a casual process. Had he been writing a book, he might have looked elsewhere for the four-corners-to-the-centre fold.

It had been known in Europe since the 16th century and the fold (then without a name) was well known among European folders of the 19th and 20th centuries. Had he been more serious about the word, it is likely that Gershon Legman would have chosen a European names. By default he actually did that. As it was, Robert Harbin learnt the word from Gershon Legman and, knowing no other expression for the fold, he used it for what he chose as one of his basic folds in "Paper Magic".

I am very grateful to Candice Bradley for tracing a diagram of a cheese blintz on the Web; It's exactly as I imagined it, except that I always understood that the ends of the roll were folded under instead of over. I had never before seen a picture of it.

 Thank you, too, to Paula for telling us that the Blintz fold was introduced into Holland as "Zabuton" from the Japanese. I previously knew that the Japanese used the term "cushion fold" but not that it was the normal term in Holland. I wonder how that came about.

 As for the term "envelope fold", I doubt very much if envelope folding came within Gershon Legman's concept of folding at the time. In any case, a blintzed piece of paper does not make an envelope, because, for that purpose the folded corners have to overlap.

 There is a postscript to the matter. A few years ago I met a young woman who had spent some time in Canada, where she had become acquainted with some Jewish immigrants. She told me that their word for the four-corners-to-the-centre pancake was - surprisingly - "Blintz". Unfortunately I never managed to follow this up. But it does suggest that Jewish culinary nomenclature over the vast expanse of middle and eastern Europe was probably very diverse. I think that it is possible that we may still learn more about those curious words, "blintz", "knish" and "dolken"

David Lister Grimsby, England.

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