A night like no other

Dairy Passover image
Sheldon and Elaine Sternberg celebrate Passover with an unusual milchig (dairy) seder.

When your family put meat on the table by putting meat on other families' tables-and keeping kosher-making the Passover seder "a night like no other" could be a challenge.

Elaine Sternberg's grandfather, Isaac Oscherwitz, started the Oscherwitz Sausage Company in Cincinnati, Ohio, more than 100 years ago, expanding the business throughout the Midwest. Elaine's father, Philip, and his brother, Harry, came to Chicago in 1925 and established Best's Kosher Sausage Company, an important Windy City culinary icon for decades. (See sidebar.)

As a young bride living in her widowed father-in-law's home, Laura-Elaine's mother, wanted to make an impression at Passover. Because the family ate meat every night of the year, Laura created her own milchig Seder, featuring butter, egg, and cream-based dishes.

"Having butter on the table was a delight," Elaine said. "We didn't eat butter with a meat dinner-and we had a lot of meat for dinner.

"It was a very unusual seder. We loved it. It was our favorite meal of the year."

After the ceremonial herbs, the Seder begins with a somewhat controversial matzoh ball soup. Figuring three-fourths of a cup of soup per person, mix together half water, half whole milk, a large chunk of butter, a little pepper.

Oh, yes-and "salt, salt, salt!"

Cook the ingredients slowly. "With the amount of salt there is, it becomes soup," Elaine said.

People's reactions vary when they taste the soup. "It's very mixed, from 'I love this soup!' to 'Don't ever invite me to dinner again!'" Elaine laughed.

The rest of the seder consists of homemade gefilte fish, homemade horseradish, parboiled oven roasted potatoes, asparagus, tomato, cucumbers, buttered matzoh and, for dessert, a 12-egg Passover cake that essentially becomes a strawberry shortcake topped with piles of thick, rich whipping cream.

"The whole dinner to us was absolutely the best in the world," she said. "My friends could never get over it." Elaine cooked the milchig (dairy in Yiddish)  seder for her husband, Sheldon, and their children for years. Now, their children and their spouses have picked up the tradition-sharing in the family's collective memory and making their Passover Seder a "night like no other."


Remembering Best's Kosher Sausages

Best's Kosher Sausages were a Chicago culinary icon, particularly famous for their hot dogs, served at every major Chicago sports venue for many years.

Best's Kosher Sausages started in 1886, when Elaine Sternberg's grandfather, Isaac Oscherwitz, immigrated to Cincinnati, Ohio, and created a business to support himself, his five sons, and two daughters. The company was later renamed I. Oscherwitz & Sons as it expanded throughout the Midwest.

Two of Isaac's sons, Philip and Harry, moved to Chicago in 1925 after their father died, and opened Best's Kosher Sausage Company. Philip's daughter, Elaine, married Sheldon Sternberg, and he eventually ran the business with help from numerous other relatives.

While Best's was primarily famous for its hot dogs, the company expanded to make kosher lunchmeats as well. Business grew, and Best's acquired Sinai Kosher in 1983. Ten years later, Sara Lee bought the company.

Much to the dismay of Chicago hot dog fans, Sara Lee closed Best's in 2009, ending more than 100 years of tradition.

Susan Berger, Sheldon and Elaine Sternberg's daughter, wrote in the Chicago Tribune: "This was a loss not only for my family, but for the millions of Jews who keep kosher and the many millions who don't but learned to love my family's hot dogs." 

(Source: Susan Berger, "The End of a Chicago Tradition," Chicago Tribune, Jan. 23, 2009)


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