97 Orchard An edible history of five immigrant families in one New York tenement

Jane Ziegelman

Book - 2010

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New York, NY : Smithsonian Books/Harper c2010.
1st ed
Physical Description
xv, 253 p. : ill., ports. ; 24 cm
Includes bibliographical references and index.
Main Author
Jane Ziegelman (-)
Review by New York Times Review

A look at the immigrant-led transformation of modern American cuisine, and at Mark Twain's unbridled enthusiasm for it. ONE of the first sights that greeted immigrants in New York, right after the Statue of Liberty, was a prune sandwich. The offending object appeared on the menu in the vast dining hall at Ellis Island, and it served as a warning that food was going to be a cultural struggle in this strange land. Keeping faith with their native cuisines, the newcomers made a series of counteroffers - sauerkraut, spaghetti, borscht - that changed the national palate forever. Jane Ziegelman tells this story exuberantly in "97 Orchard: An Edible History of Five Immigrant Families in One New York Tenement." Highly entertaining and deceptively ambitious, the book resurrects the juicy details of breakfast, lunch and dinner (recipes included) consumed by poor and working-class New Yorkers a century and more ago. It could well have been subtitled "How the Other Half Ate." The address is a conceit. Ninety-seven Orchard Street was a Lower East Side tenement building, constructed in the 1860s, that at different times housed the five families in the book: the Glockners (German), the Moores (Irish), the Gumpertzes (German Jewish) the Rogarshevskys (Lithuanian-Russian Jewish) and the Baldizzis (Italian). It is now the location of the Tenement Museum, where Ziegelman, the founder and director of a multiethnic cooking program for children, is in charge of a new culinary center. The reader spends relatively little time in the building itself, however, since the historical record is terse on what its occupants ate from day to day. Poor immigrants did not often keep food diaries, and until the quite recent past, historians did not pay attention to such mundane matters either. Ziegelman uses the address as an organizing principle and a point of departure into the food cultures and food histories of its tenants. She starts with what's known about the circumstances of each of her families, then quickly exits 97 Orchard and steps onto the city streets, where she strolls among the stalls and carts of the markets, dines at lunchrooms and cheap restaurants, and eyes the display cases at local food shops. The narrative moves through time, starting with a tailor, Lucas Glockner, who arrived from Germany in 1846 and later prospered enough to acquire a series of tenement properties, 97 Orchard Street among them. There he was both landlord and tenant. Through the Glockners, Ziegelman roams across Kleindeutschland, or Little Germany, an enclave whose coffee cake, pumpernickel bread and lager beer became popular throughout the city. In late October, the krauthobler, or cabbageshaver, made his appearance. Equipped with a razor-sharp blade inserted into a stout board, he charged a penny a head to slice cabbages into the raw material for sauerkraut. Ziegelman adroitly works her way through the decades and her five cuisines. Along the way, there are fascinating diversions. We learn quite a lot about the shipboard diet for 19th-century immigrants and the dining-hall menus at Ellis Island, which improved greatly after reforms by Theodore Roosevelt and the addition of a kosher kitchen in 1911. Ziegelman also pokes her nose into the Newsboys' Lodging Houses, examines the economics of pushcarts (2,500 of them on the Lower East Side in 1905) and takes an inquisitive look at boardingnouse cuisine. Well-meaning do-gooders, in thrall to the latest theories about hygiene and healthful eating, worried that Jewish children ate too many pickles and that Italians were running severe health risks with their heedless consumption of olive oil and pasta. A misbegotten campaign to Americanize the foreign palate commenced, undertaken in settlement houses where domestic scientists explained the virtues of American food at its blandest. "The cooking classes were only a modest success," Ziegelman writes of one such program. "The reason was simple: the Jewish homemaker already knew how to cook." IF Mark Twain had been consulted, the program might have worked. He loved the pure, unadulterated flavors of straight-ahead American cooking, a passion that provides Andrew Beahrs with the pretext for "Twain's Feast: Searching for America's Lost Foods in the Footsteps of Samuel Clemens." This is a culinary stunt book fixated on the nostalgic list of American foods Twain included in his 1880 travel memoir, "A Tramp Abroad." Homesick, hungry and appalled by European food, Twain hankered after "a mighty porterhouse steak an inch and a half thick, hot and sputtering from the griddle; dusted with fragrant pepper; enriched with little melting bits of butter of the most unimpeachable freshness and genuineness." Among Twain's other primal American foods were fried oysters, Southern-style fried chicken, Saratoga potatoes (i.e., potato chips), hot buckwheat cakes and trout from Lake Tahoe. Beahrs made it his mission to chase down a fair number of them in their native habitats. The result is a weird hybrid: part offbeat literary study, part "Blue Highways" travelogue, part slow-food manifesto in the Michael Pollan vein. At no point does it cohere, although chasing after Twain, on whatever excuse, can be lots of fun. For Beahrs, Twain is the great national grazer, sampling the simple culinary pleasures of a country soon to be overwhelmed by industrialized agriculture and ecological catastrophe. He's a locavore whose locale constantly shifts as he moves from the Midwestern prairie to the pristine West and, finally, to the cultivated environs of Hartford and the banquet circuit of Manhattan. Beahrs sings loud and hard for his supper. He camps out in the predawn darkness in Illinois to observe the prairie chicken, an endangered member of the grouse family that once thrived in the Midwestern grasslands. He attends a Coon Supper in Arkansas - raccoon tastes like the dark meat of a chicken with the texture of pot roast, we learn - and visits a trout hatchery near Pyramid Lake in Nevada, an oyster-seeding project in San Francisco Bay, the Crescent City Farmers Market in New Orleans, a cranberry bog on Martha's Vineyard. Twain recedes to the vanishing point as these expeditions take on lives of their own. Beahrs serves up mini-histories of staple American ingredients, laments their endangered status, enshrines them in period recipes and periodically lets loose a keening lament for the lost world of abundant, flavorful food. When the elegiac mood is upon him, Beahrs tends to be fatuous: "Sometimes it's good not to get exactly what you want, whenever you want it; sometimes it's better to be open to what a season has to offer, to celebrate what's already there." These heartfelt public service announcements punctuate the book, and slow the narrative. Beahrs does much better in the role of goofy sidekick to Twain on his ramblings. The book needs more Huck, less hokum. Ziegelman and Beahrs resurrect the details of breakfast, lunch and dinner as consumed a century ago. William Grimes, a domestic correspondent for The Times, is the author of "Appetite City: A Culinary History of New York."

Copyright (c) The New York Times Company [August 15, 2010] Review by Booklist Review

In this compelling foray into forensic gastronomy, Ziegelman pulls the facade off the titular 97 Orchard Street tenement.The result is a living dollhouse that invites us to gaze in from the sidewalk.With minds open and mouths agape, we witness the comings and goings of the building's inhabitants in the years surrounding the turn of the twentieth century. By focusing on the culinary lives of individuals from a variety of ethnic groups, Ziegelman pieces together a thorough sketch of Manhattan's Lower East Side at a time when these immigrants were at the forefront of a rapidly changing urban life. The food facts she uncovers are sure to interest and astound even those outside the culinary community, and guarantee that the reader will never look at a kosher dill pickle, a wrapped hard candy, or even the delectable foie gras the same way again. Ziegelman cleverly takes this opportunity to show us that in learning about food, we're actually learning about history and when it comes to the sometimes surprising journey some of our favorite meals have taken to get here, it's fascinating stuff.--Bostrom, Annie Copyright 2010 Booklist

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission. Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

Ziegelman (Foie Gras: A Passion) puts a historical spin to the notion that you are what you eat by looking at five immigrant families from what she calls the "elemental perspective of the foods they ate." They are German, Italian, Irish, and Jewish (both Orthodox and Reform) from Russia and Germany-they are new Americans, and each family, sometime between 1863 and 1935, lived on Manhattan's Lower East Side. Each represents the predicaments faced in adapting the food traditions it knew to the country it adopted. From census data, newspaper accounts, sociological studies, and cookbooks of the time, Ziegelman vividly renders a proud, diverse community learning to be American. She describes the funk of fermenting sauerkraut, the bounty of a pushcart market, the culinary versatility of a potato, as well as such treats as hamburger, spaghetti, and lager beer. Beyond the foodstuffs and recipes of the time, however, are the mores, histories, and identities that food evokes. Through food, the author records the immigrants' struggle to reinterpret themselves in an American context and their reciprocal impact on American culture at large. (July) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved Review by Library Journal Review

Ninety-seven Orchard was an address shared by five immigrant families who lived in one tenement building at different times from the end of the Civil War up to World War II. Ziegelman, who will direct the Culinary Center to open at New York's Tenement Museum, which is the actual 97 Orchard building, documents, in a manner not often found in such social histories, their struggles to adjust to a new way of life in America. Interspersed among the tales of each group are culinary details and specific recipes that add vividly to the flavor and texture of the descriptions of the hardscrabble life these families-German, Irish, Jewish, and Italian-experienced. The multitude of gastronomic details, from the origin of snack shops called delicatessens to the growing popularity of something called macaroni, are painstakingly described. It is an eye-opening exploration of the social and economic history of those who thrived and survived, in spite of significant odds, on New York's Lower East Side. VERDICT Recommended for those seeking up-close and personal-as well as edible-insights into the daily lives of late 19th- and early 20th-century "new Americans."-Claire Franek, MSLS, Brockport, NY (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted. Review by Kirkus Book Review

The director of the forthcoming Culinary Center at New York City's Tenement Museum embarks on a cultural and culinary tour of the building at 97 Orchard St., which serves as the museum's principal display.Ziegelman (co-author: Foie Gras: A Passion, 1999) offers the stories of five immigrant families who lived in the building sometime between 1863, when it opened, and 1935. The author's research is both astonishing in its dimensions and enlightening in its presentation. She begins with a German family, then follows with Irish, Jewish (from Prussia, Germany and Lithuania) and Italian families. Each chapter includes some of the recipes fundamental to that family. Readers will learn the procedures for making things like hasenpfeffer (rabbit stew), krupnik (a sweet alcohol), fish hash, oyster patties, stuffed pike, pickles, challah and zucchini frittata. Ziegelman digs out the personal history of each family, but she is most interested in their cultural milieu. She notes the forcessome unfriendly, others welcomingthat greeted the new arrivals, and includes a splendid section on the cuisine offered at Ellis Island. The author also examines how the food of the immigrants altered the eating habits of Americans (yes, there was a time when we disdained Italian food and didn't know what a bagel was), charts the rise of the delicatessen and describes the advent of Crisco. Scattered throughout are well-placed details that continually brighten the narrative, including a 1920 public-school menu, a portrait of the pushcart culture that thrived for years, the origin of schmaltz (the delectable grease from goose skin or chicken skin) and 1860s restaurant slang ("shipwreck" = scrambled eggs, "one slaughter on the pan" = porterhouse steak).A tasty, satisfying stew of history, sociology, cultural anthropology and spicy prose.]] Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.