Thursday, August 10, 2017

Midwestern Sour Cream

There are a host of Jewish foods that are associated with the American Jewish experience. Most of these, such as blintzes with sour cream, sour cream and bananas, and (of course) bagels-cream cheese-lox, are generally associated with the Jews of the Northeast, particularly New York. It might, therefore, come as a surprise to learn that during the early 20th century one of the largest kosher dairy producers in the country was located in the Midwest, in St. Louis, Missouri.

St. Louis is home to one of the Midwest’s biggest Jewish communities, and its earliest communal organizations date back to the 1830s. There were already three existing synagogues in 1882, when Sholom Isaac and Rivka Raskas arrived there from Kovno, Lithuania, and opened a small business delivering milk door to door. This business developed into Raskas Dairy, which opened in 1888. St. Louis, however, did not have a means of providing their boys with a traditional Jewish education, so the Raskases sent their two eldest sons, Julius and Louis, back to Europe, where they studied at the yeshivas of Slabodka and then Radin. Shortly before World War I, Louis returned to join the growing business. (His wife, Ruth, and their two sons were stuck in Europe until 1920.)

After the war, the Raskas’ business began to grow beyond their St. Louis market. They became popular across the nation, particularly for their patented Smetina cream dressing. Observant Jews were particularly good customers because of the family’s reputation for maintaining strict oversight of the kashrut of their products.

With the success of the dairy, the Raskases were able to support the growth of the St. Louis community, particularly the Jewish educational institutions that permitted families to give their children a traditional Jewish education. Louis Raskas passed away in April 1974. Raskas Dairy was purchased by Schreiber Foods in 2002.

Missouri became the 24th state on August 10, 1821.

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