Russ & Daughters

by | Oct 25, 2013 | Book Reviews

Russ & Daughters
Reflections and Recipes from
the House that Herring Built
Mark Russ Federman
Foreword by Calvin Trillin
Schocken, 2013
205 pages, 25.95
ISBN 978-0-8052-4294-2

What are Anthony Bourdain, Oliver Sacks and Martha Stewart in total agreement on? You got it! Russ and Daughters is one of New York City’s greatest living institutions. Very good! Next question: What was a basic difference among an Italian grocery, a German delicatessen, and a kosher deli? Italian grocers sold mortadella and capicola, as well as parmesan and mozzarella cheeses. German delicatessens sold liverwurst and bratwurst, as well bergcase and cambozola cheeses. A kosher deli couldn’t sell cheese or creamed herring; dairy products could not be sold in a store that sold meat. So “Appetizing Stores” were invented.

Therefore, on the lower east side of New York City, if you wanted a pastrami or corned beef sandwich or to “Send a salami to your boy in the army,” you might have gone to Katz’s Delicatessen. But if you wanted a “half a quarter belly lox,” or a nice schmaltz herring, or a shtikel vegetable cheese, you could get the best deal at Russ & Daughters, now being run by the author’s daughter, the fourth generation to run this century-old business.

Up from a pushcart selling herring to immigrants to “J. Russ, Cut Rate Appetizing,” to its present emporium (definitely no longer cut rate), the family business has been nurtured by scores of brothers, sisters, sons, daughters, children, and in-laws, all of whom put in their “sweat” time. Even when going to college, law and medical school they were expected to return on weekends and summers to “help out” in the store. Author Mark Russ Federman has contrived to tell the family’s story (“sliced thin”), throw in a few good recipes and sprinkle it all with wonderful family photos. Russ & Daughters is a good read, especially if you’re interested in learning about 15 different kinds of herring.

—Hal Sacks is a retired Jewish communal worker who has reviewed books for Jewish News for more than 30 years.