Meat-and-Greet at Elegance in Meats, Northbrook, IL

If there is such a thing as a gastronomic chain letter, it is in the hive of Brisketeers waiting in line on the day before a Jewish holiday to have their homecooked roast sliced. They stand outside in the parking lot before the store even opens, sharing their recipes. 

Most lines I stand in are restrained with silence. Here, there is no silence to break.

One woman says she uses her great-great grandmother’s recipe from Germany. “Two cans of 16-ounce tomato sauce, an equal amount of water, couple bouillon cubes, two cups of very strong coffee, season with garlic powder, onion powder, oh, put in carrots, mushrooms, potatoes, and onions. 325-degrees for three hours, uncovered the last half hour.”

A few people with the brisket gene spoof the idea of the recipe altogether. Like eighty-year-old Lorraine Brotman, who makes her Russian great-grandmother’s brisket. “Look it’s not an absolute. A-1 sauce, salt, garlic salt, bay leaves, enough water to cover.”

I wouldn’t say that the morning’s recipes held an impressive reservoir of hard-to-find ingredients or technical know-how, but they were open to the widest interpretation. “Just pour Coke around the edge of the pan.”

In the last 170 years, we may have lost our mother tongues, (my mother-in-law no longer spoke Polish), changed our names (Jews were given names at Ellis Island according to their trades, such as gold and silver), and endured many ordeals, like the shtetls of Europe which forced Jews to move all over the place. Amid all that we have endured, we have kept something on which we can rely. We have hung on to our recipes.

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