The act of reading ... begins on a flat surface, counter or page, and then gets stirred and chopped and blended until what we make, in the end, is a dish, or story, all our own.
— Adam Gopnik
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July 18, 2010

97 Orchard

97 Orchard:  An Edible History of Five Immigrant Families in One New York Tenement, by Jane Ziegelman, is a fascinating book. I'm so glad I found about it and was able to read it.  My immigrant grandparents, and my parents, lived a little north and a generations or so after most of the families described in this book, but it was so interesting to read about how these immigrants found food, and cooked, how they brought their own food traditions to New York and adopted some of what they found here.

 The five families in the title -- the Glockners {a German family living there in the 1850s, and the man who buiilt 97 Orchard Steet as a real estate investment), the Moores (an Irish couple living there in around 1870), the Gumpertz (German Jews, who also moved in in 1870), the Rogarshevskys (who immigrated from Lithuania in 1900), and the Baldizzis (a family from Sicily who lived there from 1928 until the building was shuttered in 1935)  -- are in a way just symbols of different waves of immigration and the changing face of streets and neighborhoods in the Lower East Side. The author mostly imagines how they lived, and cooked, but in talking about Mrs. Gumpertz, who is abandoned by her husband when he can't find work, the author suggests why this might be the case:

Like most East Siders, when Natalie Gumpertz departed this world, she left little behind in the way of documentation. No diary, no book of household accounts, no correspondence, and no family recipes -- the kind of detailed and personal records left by middle-class women. The poor, meanwhile, left behind a different class of evidence:  census and draft records, marriage licenses, birth and death certificates -- the kinds of documents that fill our municipal archives, the city's official memory.

Using these families as touchpoints, Jane Ziegelman uses a wide variety of other sources -- from fiction and newspaper stories to studies undertaken by charitable organizations and new city health agencies -- to put together a culinary history of the Lower East Side. She touches on everything from poultry farms in tenement basements to pushcart markets, from German beer gardens to Irish restaurants, from the Immigrant Dining Room at Ellis Island to changing attitudes about keeping kosher, to the 'model flats' (recreated tenement apartments) built by settlement house workers to teach immigrant girls and woman how to keep house, to uptown New Yorkers 'slumming' (their word) on the Lower East Side, discovering knishes and being baffled by spaghetti.  The book is also full of recipes, mostly written in the style and using the ingredients of the time (the recipe for stuffed cabbage is a lot like my grandmother's, except for the beef bones simmering in the tomato sauce and the grated apple added to the filling). 

Until I started reading, I didn't realize that 97 Orchard Street is now the New York Tenement Museum. That would be a fascinating place to visit in person, but the museum's web site is very interesting in the meantime.


Coffee and a Book Chick said...

Oh my goodness, this sounds incredible! I would imagine that collected recipes would be much more of a diary in that time period than anything else -- this looks really interesting, and I'm excited to check this out!

Gramma Ann said...

This sounds like a great read, it is always interesting to read about backgrounds and how things came about as they did. I will have to see if I can find this book. It sounds like a fascinating read.

Brenda said...

This book looks very interesting. I am adding it to my TBR. Thanks for posting it.

Anonymous said...

This sounds fascinating! The stories of immigrants to the US really interest me and I would love to check this out. The Tenement Museum will be a must see for me when I am next in New York.

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