As I was ambling through the library the other day, this book literally LEAPT off the shelf at me.
97 Orchard by Jane Ziegelman
Edible History: check!
Immigrant Families: check!
New York Tenement: check!
These are few of my favorite things......
I couldn't wait to dive in to this book, and dive I did!
97 Orchard gives the history of 5 different immigrant groups (Germans, Jews, Russians, Irish, and Italians) who arrived on Ellis Island with only the clothes on their backs and their culinary history. It focuses on one family in each group, all of whom happened to live in the same lower East Side tenement at 97 Orchard Street in New York City at different times, between 1863 - 1935. That tenement building now houses the Lower East Side Tenement Museum.
This is not a cookbook. It does contain "recipes" of sorts that the ethnic women in the book relied on during their tenure in the building.
Throughout this journey, we learn how to make sauerkraut, gefilte fish, dilled pickles, pickled herring, and more.
We learn the origin of the hamburger (German) and delicatessans (again, the Germans). All the while getting a glimpse of what it was like to live in a lower East Side tenement in Manhattan when New York City experienced the greatest influx of immigrants ever!
I fell in love with this book. Talk about local color! It was like taking a trip back in time... in my favorite setting of all... EVER... OLD NEW YORK!
I want to share one of my favorite passages in the book. It had me smiling, and I even read it out loud to my husband (who is NOT a reader... and whom I don't usually share "literary" things with). Even he agreed: pretty cool stuff. This depicts the origination of the modern day "hotdog vendor" you can find on every street corner in New York City. Back then he was called "the sauerkraut man".
From 97 Orchard:
"The regular popular visitor to the German inns and taverns of the East Side is the sauerkraut man. He brings his calling with him from the Old Country, and finds a more profitable field in New York than in Berlin or Hamburg. His equipment is quite curious. He wears a blue or white apron, running from his neck nearly to the ankles, and from his shoulders is suspended a circular metal box which goes half way around his waist. It has three large compartments, two of which are surrounded by hot water. In one are well-cooked Frankfurter sausages, and in the other thoroughly boiled sauerkraut. In the third compartment is potato salad. He carries in his hand a basked in which are small plates and steel forks. One sausage and a generous spoonful of sauerkraut and potato salad cost 5 cents. All three articles are of good quality, well cooked and seasoned."
This was from a 1902 article in the New York Post.
A fantastic, interesting, fascinating book about some of the origins of food that New Yorkers (and Americans) have adopted as being "their own". A little history thrown in, and you've got yourself a good, solid read.