Tuesday, September 6, 2011

97 Orchard Street

97 Orchard: An Edible History of Five Immigrant Families in One New York Tenement  
by Jane Ziegelman

This non-fiction book explores the foodways of the various immigrant families who lived in the tenement at 97 Orchard Street in New York's Lower East Side from the 1860s to the 1930s. The author begins with the Germans and their process of assimilation. She then tells how, through their culinary traditions such as delicatessens and beer, Germans established themselves in American culinary culture. Next is the Moore family from Ireland. This chapter examines how the Irish lacked in culinary tradition except for potatoes. She traces the history of Irish immigrants and their interest in becoming "American" and eating "American" foods. She discusses how corned beef and cabbage became the American image of traditional Irish cuisine. The third and fourth chapter deal with Jewish families. First the Gumpertz family, a western European Jewish family whose ancestors borrowed from Gentile traditions. Then in America, the German Jews meshed traditional European and Jewish foodways with more typically American ones to create a new culinary tradition. The chapter on the Rogarshevsky family will seem familiar to those who have visited Ellis Island and/or know about Jewish foodways. My personal favorite chapter is the last one, the Baldizzi family from Sicily. This chapter is near and dear to my heart, being the granddaughter of an Italian immigrant. The story broke my heart and gave me a new appreciation for what my family went through and how our food traditions have become part of mainstream American culture. I could easily imagine the smell of garlic frying in the Balzizzi kitchen (or is that wafting through my bedroom door from my parents' kitchen?). I found this book fascinating. I really enjoyed learning about the different traditions of the different cultures and how those traditions became part of American culture. The author really did her research and I always appreciate a book based on primary sources. I also liked seeing the period recipes sprinkled throughout the book. There's even one from the province my grandmother was born in. My biggest complaint is that there was too much about immigrants and immigrant life in general in some of the chapters but I liked reading about it all anyway. The Baldizzi chapter is too short too and there is no conclusion. The book ends rather abruptly. Overall though, I really enjoyed this book and it's one for the keeper shelf. I highly recommend it to those who are interested in immigrant life in American cities and the history of foodways in America. 

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