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

by Jane Ziegelman

Smithsonian Books/HarperCollins, 2010. ISBN 978-0-061-28850-0.
Reviewed by Susan Wittig Albert
Posted on 10/26/2010

Nonfiction: Cultural/Gender Focus; Nonfiction: Food/Cooking/Kitchen

97 Orchard: An Edible History of Five Immigrant Families in One New York Tenement is remarkable not only for its stunningly rich documentation, but for the richness of its unique central idea: an intensive, extensive study of the foodways of European immigrant families who lived in a single tenement building over five decades. Using the building as the setting for her dramatic narrative, author and food historian Jane Ziegelman tells the multilayered, multidimensional stories of German, Irish, Jewish, Lithuanian, and Italian residents and the food traditions they celebrated.

In 1863, a prosperous German tailor built a home for his family in New York's Lower East Side, and rented out the other apartments in his building to German acquaintances. Using an impressive range of primary sources, Ziegelman reconstructs not only the history of Lucas Glockner's new building, but the story of the larger tenement neighborhood, product of the sharp rise in immigration that had begun some 40 years earlier and continued for more than a century. But the real heart of her narrative is the food the German immigrants ate, described in the German cookbooks Zielegman quotes (recipes included in the text), the groceries sold in the shops and bakeries on Orchard Street and in the larger markets, and prepared by Mrs. Glockner for her family. Ziegelman even takes us into the saloons and beer halls, and to the picnic grounds where huge Volksfests were held.

The remaining four chapters of the book are marked by the same careful, skillful attention to historical detail, food origins, culinary traditions, and even grocery lists. The Irish Moore family ate potatoes, fish hash, and corned beef and cabbage, and frequented restaurants such as Dolan's, where they could buy oyster stew for 20 cents, pickled tongue for ten, and crullers for a nickel. Mrs. Gumpertz, a quintessential Jewish mother, is pictured making gefilte fish (a dish brought from the Old Country, along with the oblong gefilte fish pot and the Sabbath candlesticks) and other Jewish specialties. The Rogarshevskys, who came to live at 97 Orchard after their arrival at Ellis Island in 1901, found the neighborhood full of pushcarts, where they could shop for the makings of their daily soups. During the Depression, the Baldizzis, like other Italian immigrants, spent their tiny food budget on a few indispensable staples: bread, pasta, beans, lentils, and olive oil, with free groceries provided weekly by Governor Roosevelt's Home Relief Program.

Over the decades, 97 Orchard Street was home to nearly 7000 working class immigrants. Boarded up for half a century, the building now houses the New York Tenement Museum, which features museum apartments that reconstruct the living situation for families like the Glockners and the Moores. For a look into the building, visit the Tenement Museum's website. And then read Jane Ziegelman's fine book, which so fully and dramatically documents the way the building's residents celebrated life in their new country with food cultures brought from the old.

97 Orchard: An Edible History is social history at its very best, fully documented and beautifully written, a stunning testimony to the importance of food in our lives. Kudos to Jane Ziegelman for an original idea, artfully and provocatively executed!

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Jane Ziegelman is the director of the forthcoming culinary program at New York City's Tenement Museum. The founder and direct of Kids Cook!, a multiethnic cooking program for children, she has presented food-related talks and cooking classes in libraries and schools across New York City. Her writing on food has appeared in newspapers, magazines, and books. She is the coauthor of Foie Gras: A Passion. She lives in Brooklyn.

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