Montreal-Style Smoked MeatAn interview with Eiran Harris conducted by LaraRabinovitch, with the cooperation of the Jewish Public Library Archives ofMontreal.[Record]

  • Eiran Harris

Having conducted extensive research, I have not discovered any proof thatOld Man Wiseman introduced or ever manufactured smoked meat. Old Man Kravitzwill be dealt with later. The earliest ad in Montreal mentioning smoked meats, of which I am aware,appeared in 1876, announcing that they were being manufactured by the CanadianMeat and Produce Company, whose agents were McGibbon, Baird & Company ofMontreal. These were not Jewish-style products. The actual genesis was the arrival in 1884 of Aaron Sanft from Yassi,Romania. He became Montreal’s first kosher butcher. Historians believe thatmodern day smoked meat originated in Turkey and was brought to Romania byinvading Turkish armies. Romanian Jewish butchers improved the curing processresulting in an exquisitely tender delicacy. In 1894 Abraham Leon Kaplansky of Montreal issued Canada’s first Jewishcalendar. He was also Canada’s first Hebrew and Yiddish printer. Featured in thecalendar was a full-page ad in Yiddish proclaiming: “A. Sanft Kosher Meat. 560Craig Street, Montreal’s largest butcher shop, clean and fresh meat daily.Manufacturer of salami, smoked meat, corned beef, smoked beef, sausages. Samequality as New York. Guaranteed not to spoil.” Certain phrases in the ad requiresome clarification: truth in advertising did not exist then. Anyone could claimto be the largest. As well, food inspection was not strict and food poisoningwas common. Meat purveyors attempted to outdo each other by announcing they werethe cleanest and freshest. As to the “Same quality as New York,” Canadians feltinferior to the British and the Americans. Montreal’s Jews, especially,considered New York to represent the best of everything. In fact, officially,Sanft called his operation The American Sausage Factory. He died in1913. A Yiddish ad in New York’s JewishGazette appeared in 1899 proclaiming that the largest,‘kosherest,’ and cleanest butcher shop and sausage factory was operated by HymanGenser of 692 St. Lawrence Street in Montreal, “manufacturer of a variety ofsausages, tongues, smoked and pickled meats, all strictly kosher as verified byRabbi Aaron Mordechai Ashinsky.” Ashinsky was Montreal’s most prominent andhighly respected rabbi, and his word was law. The ad appeared in a New York newspaper because the only Yiddish papersavailable in Montreal then came from New York. Fraser, Viger & Company, calling themselves Canada’s leading grocers,provided Montreal’s Jewish community with kosher Passover products since thelate 1880s under the religious supervision of Mr. L. Mittenhal. All theirdelicatessen products were manufactured by Zimmerman’s in New York. M. ZimmermanCompany claimed to be America’s largest delicatessen manufacturers, withfactories in New York, Boston, and Philadelphia. What follows is a practical chronology of delicatessen importers: 1909: A. Jacobson Delicatessen 1086 St. Lawrence Boulevard. St. Lawrence wasthe major commercial street in the Jewish area. Jacobson offered smoked beef,bolognas, and all kinds of delicacies of the best imported brands. 1910: Mrs. A. Adelson, proprietress of the up-to-date New York KosherDelicatessen Store at 246 Sainte-Catherine Street West provided “the latestassortment of smoked meats, fresh importations every day.” The store was located3 blocks west of Saint Lawrence, still within the Jewish area. 1911: Frohman’s Cafe and Finest Delicatessen, as well as Imported SmokedMeats and Sausages, located on St. Lawrence Blvd. 1912: Mr. P. Zaks, Proprietor of the New York Sausage and Delicatessen storeon St. Lawrence, advertised in large print: “New York in Montreal, the first NewYork kosher quick lunch and delicatessen. All products imported from NewYork.” 1913: Mr. A. Furst, Manager of E. Jackel Kosher Delicatessen on St. Lawrenceclaimed that: “My place is known as the cleanest in the city, and I carry onlythe choicest of all kinds of smoked fish and meats, getting them from New Yorkthree times weekly.” Mr. Furst also advertised the following: 1914: Liber’s Kosher Restaurant and Delicatessen on St. Lawrence, “all ourDelicatessen are imported from New York.” …