In my backlog of unfinished posts, this one — started in November 2019 — seemed the most timely for this pandemic Passover. It’s partly elegiac, which fits the current mood, but it’s also about finding new family. And about endurance.
A deli-denying newscaster plays a part in the narrative too. Fake news!
Rolled Beef, Redux
In my dual roles of amateur family historian and professional food writer, I have one subject that keeps calling me: the nearly extinct deli meat called rolled beef. I first read about in the obituary of one of my Kornmehl butcher relatives, Nathan Kornmehl. Thank you, Jill Kornmehl, for “introducing” me to your father-in-law and giving me so much food for thought.
I wrote about it in this blog; I covered it for the Forward; and I most recently revisited the topic for Tablet magazine.
Each time I write about rolled beef, it gets more and more difficult to find. Between the time of the Forward story in early 2018 and the Tablet story in late 2019, one of the prime purveyors of the rolled beef, Ben’s Best Kosher Delicatessen, closed its doors. Grand Kosher, one of the only retailers to make it commercially, went out of business too. Now only one place in the United States carries it regularly, Sarge’s, which is not kosher.
Also in the interim, one of my closest friends died.
But you can read all about that here; what follows is the backstory.
More Buffalo Butchers & a Celebrity Quest
Almost as much as decent pay, writers crave a word count that allows them to expand on a topic (of course, the best is when these two things are linked). With the Tablet piece, I had a bit of breathing room and a recipe request. And I thought I might be able to do a celebrity tie in.
I looked to see who had commented on my original rolled beef blog post and found Harvey Feinman, a former butcher in Buffalo who knew the recipe for rolled beef, a local staple, and who clued me in to the city’s close-knit kosher meat scene. He was happy to help, even though it was clear he thought my continued interest in deli meat past was a bit daft.
I was far less successful in my quest for a celebrity link. It was a long shot, I thought, but I knew that Wolf Blitzer grew up Jewish in Buffalo in the 1950s and 1960s, the height of the kosher deli/rolled beef scene.
You can’t just email celebrities with requests for a quote. You have to go through their press contacts, in this case at CNN.
I emailed the one that was listed at the top, subject line “Deli question for Wolf Blitzer”:
I’m writing a story for Tablet magazine about a rare deli specialty called rolled beef that was popular during Wolf Blitzer’s childhood in Buffalo, New York — and is now near extinct. There were several butcher shops/delis….that he might have frequented. I was hoping I might have a quick talk or an email exchange with Mr. Blitzer about this topic.
I did not have much luck in getting a response initially, but after copying various people on the distribution list and being a general nudge, I finally got a response. I was told that Wolf “doesn’t have any recollection of rolled beef. He said he was of course familiar with corned beef, but not rolled beef.”
Fair enough. The connection was just a guess, and I have been known to be wrong a few times in my life.
Both the name Kornmehl and the topic of rolled beef are reader magnets. After the Tablet piece was published, the following email from Louis Trachtman was among the messages that I got from nostalgic Buffalo residents and former butchers:
I grew up in Buffalo, NY and I remember Mr. Kornmehl very well. He was always happy, it seemed — a very pleasant man. My older brother was a delivery boy for Mr. Kornmehl’s butcher shop, which, if my memory serves me correctly, was in the old Broadway Market. I would help my brother many times in the deliveries all over the city. Mr. Kornmehl had a partner in the business for a number of years. His name was Mr. Blitzer. Then in the early 1960’s Mr. Blitzer left and opened his own kosher delicatessen and restaurant on Hertel Avenue. Mr. Blitzer’s son is Wolf Blitzer…the newscaster. Oh yes, I remember “rolled beef,” also. Thanks for your wonderful writing.
Well, well, well. And that’s all I’ll say about that.
But that wasn’t the last of the Buffalo connections. I’ve saved the best for last.
After the Tablet story ran, I also heard from Terry Wolfisch Cole, who said:
Buffalo was a small Jewish community indeed. Louis Trachtman was my father’s best friend. My 104 year old Grandma Sylvia was a Kornmehl. She’s still alive, living in Boca Raton.
Sylvia Kornmehl Mintz, who married Henry Mintz in Buffalo, was Nathan’s first cousin.
But that was back in November. With the goal of finishing this post, I wrote Terry, asking for pictures, a bit trepidatiously, I admit. I was worried about Sylvia’s health.
Good news. Not only did Terry send me the wonderful group picture of Sylvia’s on her 100th birthday, above, but she sent the one taken on March 12th of this year, celebrating her 105th birthday.
Grandma is well. She’s in her assisted living facility, rather unhappy about being confined to her apartment.
We hear you. Continue to live and be well, Sylvia.
And that goes for all of you, my extended Kornmehl clan and friends and readers of this blog. May the angel of death pass over your household, may Elijah wash his hands when he comes in after visiting all those other homes, and may we all be free to get together next year with good hair and enough toilet paper to serve a gathering that usually lasts for hours and involves a great deal of wine.
Abe Hirsch says
Glad you finished this piece. Have to see where Sylvia is on the family tree. Stay safe and have a good Passover.
Edie Jarolim says
Thank you, Abe — same to you! As you know, the family tree is huge and complex and ever changing. I don’t know that you’ll find Sylvia easily (I couldn’t) but trust that she is Nathan’s first cousin.
Vera Marie Badertscher says
I am rolling out of my chair at Wolf Blitzer forgetting his father (extension of not knowing rolled beef) OR some CNN lackey feeding you bologna about rolled beef. Please flood all social media outlets where he has an account. He surely must reply!
Edie Jarolim says
I sent him/his publicists the follow up to the Tablet story (originally Louis Trachtmen’s comments were on the Tablet website), but got no response. So…
Terry Wolfisch Cole says
Oh, Edie. It’s with a heavy heart that I need to let you and the rest of the Kornmehl know that we lost my beloved Grandma Sylvia in June. She went peacefully and with her children at her side, no small feat these days.
Edie Jarolim says
Oh, Terry I am so sorry for you and your family but very glad to hear she was surrounded by her loved ones at the end. May her memory — and her wonderful long life! — be a blessing.
Marjorie Klein Yaffee says
I grew up in North Buffalo during the 1960s and vividly recall going to Blitzers. I remember chocolate covered Jel candies on the counter— I think they were 2 cents each and sometimes the man behind the counter would give me one (David Blitzer, but maybe a man named Abe. We were not big regulars for their Rolled Beef. Our Rolled Beef came from Hoffman’s Kosher Butcher on Elmwood near Bidwell (my mother grew up on West Delavan and Hoffman’s had been her childhood butcher). I remember the smell of the coolness of the air in the store and the sound of the knife coming down on the butcher block. Usually, we had delivery and I remember my mother on the phone and how she described just which cuts and amounts she wanted. When the brown paper package bound in strings arrived I gathered close as Abe the Butcher or his assistant Davey always sent me a little package of Rolled Beef as a present. Chai the deliver always had a few pieces of Double Bubble gum for me. I loved the Rolled Beef and in recent years I have longed for a taste of my past.
Edie Jarolim says
What wonderful detailed memories! Thanks for coming by and sharing.
rob Kornmehl says
Do you have Jill and Bernard Kornmehl on your mailing list.
It are the son and daughter in law of Natan Kornmehl from Buffalo, which you mention in your blog.
I traveled with them to TARNOW 2nearly 3 years ago.
Jill knows a lot about the Kornmehl-family.
We visited in Tarnow the jewish cemetary, full of Kornmehl’s .
It was a great trip.
Edie Jarolim says
Yes, I do, I worked with her on the Vienna family information for the second version of the large Tarnow Connection book.