Jewish families looking to cook traditional Passover meals this week may have a difficult time finding some of the ingredients, another lingering effect from the record-breaking cold winter.
A shortage in whitefish, a staple of gefilte fish, has many stores scrambling, charging extra or suggesting alternatives to customers. Gefilte -- Yiddish for "stuffed" -- fish is an Eastern European dish that involves whitefish and other types of fish being ground up, mixed with onions and carrots and eggs, and formed into ball-shaped loafs to be boiled and then eaten during Passover.
Passover, an eight-day celebration of the emergence of the Jews from Egyptian slavery, begins tonight.
The lack of whitefish is leaving many stores and customers across the suburbs scrambling to adjust their recipes on short notice.
"It's a big problem, we're missing out on a lot of business because of it," said Mike Clark, seafood manager at Mariano's Fresh Market in Vernon Hills.
The shortage stems from the cold weather in the far northern parts of Lake Michigan and Lake Superior, leaving the water too icy for fishermen, Clark said. A recent late-season blizzard that refroze areas of the lake that had started to thaw hasn't helped matters either, he said.
Clark said he spoke with a few distributors who told him that with the warm weather this past weekend, they hope to have fish flown in and back on the stands early in the week, but there's no guarantee.
The Vernon Hills store has been out of whitefish for the past eight or nine days, he said.
"We've had customers calling, looking for it," Clark said. "But what can you do? It's an act of God."
Managers at the Sunset Foods in Long Grove said they were able to keep the fish in stock but have heard about the shortage from customers who have tried many stores before getting to them.
At Joe Caputo's and Son's Fruit Market in Algonquin, customers can find whitefish, but they'll be paying extra for it, said Manny Suarez, who works in the store's seafood department.
The store has a few pieces that just came in Friday, but the cost went up from $5.49 a pound to $6.99 a pound due to the shortage, he said.
"This happens every year, but with the cold weather it's extended a lot longer this time," said Andy Johnson, owner of Don's Dock in Des Plaines.
He said this is the first time in decades he's seen a winter freeze interfere with the spring holiday season.
Johnson said even if he was able to get his hands on some whitefish, it would be double the normal price.
"It's like an iceberg," Johnson said of the pack ice on the Great Lakes that is getting in the way for fishermen, "It tears up the nets so the fishermen aren't even out there fishing for it right now."
Johnson suggests Jewish cooks use cod instead of whitefish in their gefilte fish recipes this week.