Janis Burhop, Burhop’s Seafood matriarch, dead at 101

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Janis Burhop ate seafood four or five times a week.

And all of the fish she ate, she got at a discount. She was the wife of Vernon A. “Vern” Burhop, one of Chicago’s most famous fishmongers.

She ice-skated until she was nearly 90 and, having been born in an era when women didn’t have the right to vote, hoped to live long enough to cast a ballot for Hillary Clinton for president.

Mrs. Burhop, the matriarch of the Burhop’s Seafood family, made it to her 101st birthday but died Dec. 1 at the Three Crowns Park retirement complex in Evanston.

Though she didn’t work at Burhop’s, the longtime Glenview resident became a celebrated home cook. As soon as they heard her name, strangers would ask her advice on how to prepare seafood.

Her philosophy was simple: “Err to the rare.” She followed the Canadian Fisheries guideline: Cook fish hot and fast, at 425 to 450 degrees, for 10 minutes per inch of thickness.

Her buttery scalloped oysters were a favorite with guests at Thanksgiving and Christmas.

At one time, Burhop’s had six shops in and around Chicago. The original operated at 545 N. State from 1926 to 1979. It became so well-known that bus drivers pulling up to the corner would announce, “BUR-HOP’S.”

Master chefs Julia Child and James Beard used to drop in. So did Mayors Richard J. Daley and Jane Byrne. Another regular, Mike Royko, signed up for the Burhop’s newsletter using a name from his newspaper columns: Slats Grobnik.

Chicago’s poshest restaurants ran newspaper ads trumpeting seafood “exclusively from Burhop’s.”

The family still owns the Burhop’s in Hinsdale.

Janis and Vern Burhop, partners on and off the ice.

Janis and Vern Burhop, partners on and off the ice.

Vern Burhop’s father, Albert E. “Pops” Burhop, was friends with Clarence Birdseye, a pioneer of flash-freezing.

“Pops was the first one to bring things like frozen shrimp and lobster tail into Chicago for the restaurants,” said Nancy Burhop, Janis Burhop’s daughter-in-law.

Even into Mrs. Burhop’s later years, thanks to all of her years of skating, “She was in stunning shape,” said Elaine Paque, president of the Skokie Valley Skating Club. “When I’m 100, I want to look like her.”

When their son Jeff took up ice hockey, Janis and Vern Burhop, then in their 40s, flooded their back yard and started ice dancing — like ballroom dancing, only on ice skates.

“Neither of them had done any figure skating, except for the local pond,” Nancy Burhop said. “They ended up being amateur senior champions in Illinois.”

Janis and Vern Burhop on the ice around 1960. They loved skating to foxtrots, waltzes, sambas, tangos and other ballroom dances.

Janis and Vern Burhop on the ice around 1960. They loved skating to foxtrots, waltzes, sambas, tangos and other ballroom dances.

Later, they served as figure-skating judges at the Skokie Valley Skating Club, where others were inspired by the 4-foot-11 Mrs. Burhop’s trimness and physique.

“Into her 90s, she could wear leggings and a top, and she walked like a young person,” her daughter-in-law said. “She never walked like an old person till she was 98. When she was 90, she was delivering Meals on Wheels to people in their 70s.”

Mrs. Burhop, who tooled around in a white Porsche, was born in Chicago. Her father, lawyer James Ferson Clark, wanted his children to have a country childhood in his hometown of Rantoul, so the family moved to the east-central Illinois town.

She met Vern while attending the University of Illinois, where she studied nutrition and home economics. They married before World War II. He became a Navy communications officer in the Pacific theater.

Vern and Janis Burhop around 1935.

Vern and Janis Burhop around 1935.

The couple raised their family in Glenview.

At 90, when Mrs. Burhop visited a grandchild in Seattle, “She wanted to go whale-watching, bird-watching, hiking,” her daughter-in-law said on her blog, “Ask the Fishwife.” “She was up for anything, and she was 90. She did yoga every morning for as long as she could and could touch her toes at 98.”

Vern Burhop, diagnosed with brain cancer, died in 1995 at 80.

With other skating partners, Mrs. Burhop continued on the ice for another decade.

A memorial service is being planned for the spring.

Mrs. Burhop is survived by sons Jeff and Jim, four grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

The little known architect Richard Powers designed the building. | File photo

In addition to ice-dancing, Janis Burhop loved swimming / provided photo


An original recipe from her mother, Eunice Craigmile Clark. Janis Burhop served this as a side dish for 10 at Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners.

1 pt. shucked oysters

4 tbsp. oyster liquid

2 tbsp. milk or cream

1/2 c. stale or packaged bread crumbs

1 c. crushed Saltines

1/2 c. melted butter

Salt, pepper to taste

Mix bread crumbs and cracker crumbs in a bowl. Stir in butter. Put a thin layer in bottom of a shallow, buttered, glass baking dish. Cover with oysters. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Over the oysters, pour one half of oyster liquid and cream. Repeat, and cover top with remaining crumbs. Bake 30 minutes at 425 degrees. Never do more than two layers for scalloped oysters–with three, the middle layer will be underdone. If you like, sprinkle mace or grated nutmeg on each layer.

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