September 21, 2015

Younger Kosher Housewives Return to the Fish Grinder

Monsey, NY - Rifkie, a young mother of three toddlers, made gefilte fish exactly the way her mother and bubbie used to make. She treks to one of this area’s large kosher supermarkets and has the “fish guy” grind carp with some spices and of late even horseradish that her husband enjoys as part of the mix. “I know that I can buy the frozen ready mix and simply heat, but that is the way gefilte fish was made in our family for generations.” It is no secret that some stores throughout the country have given up dealing with what they say is a dwindling number of housewives who still make the gefilte fish from scratch. One old-timer in the Midwest still finds a store to ground her fish the way her mother used to do on the Lower East Side in the ‘30’s, but only for Rosh Hashanah and Passover. She would go to the fish store (not the fish department in the kosher supermarket of today) and have the man behind the fish counter put in ground carp, eggs, seltzer, salt, sugar and onions. Some of her friends added an assortment of spices. Many of these old-timers with time converted to the Manischewitz, Goodman’s or Rokeach jell-filled gefilte fish in jars or cans The big change came about nearly two decades ago when the frozen fish from companies like A & B really took hold. It is believed to be a multi-million dollar category with some putting sales at upward of $40 million.

Despite these changes, some old-timers refused to adapt to change and still bought the ground fish with the idea that it had to be theirs, mom’s or grandma’s recipe which means that they added sugar, salt and spices and some even added ketchup. Most of the larger kosher supermarkets continue to offer the ground fish and quite surprisingly to a growing number of younger consumers who simply wish to continue the tradition in their families. While the younger Orthodox customer might buy the ground fish every Shabbat and every Jewish holiday, many of the older folks buy the ground fish for that special occasion, which is usually Rosh Hashanah and Passover. One supermarket in Monsey actually has 3 grinders to meet the demand and they say, they could use a fourth. One concern for the fish departments is food safety (or simply put, to keep the flies out) but retailers say that the key is to keep temperatures in the area as low as 38 degrees.