2011: 53. 97 Orchard

“97 Orchard tells the story of five immigrant families, each of them, as it happens, residents of a single New York tenement in the years between 1863 and 1935.”

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

          This book has a great premise.  It explores the story of five families who lived in one tenement in the Lower East Side (not coincidentally the one which is now the Tenement Museum), but, as the subtitle suggests, its an edible history - it focuses on the food the people ate.  It even includes some recipes, though few seem particularly appealing (ah, that’s grinding poverty for you!).  It was super interesting both to trace the movement of people (starting with the Germans, then the Jews, the Irish, and the Italians), and to learn about the different food histories.  Of particular interest to me (who is part Irish) was to realize how, unlike the other cultures, the Irish immigrants basically had no food culture to bring over with them, largely because they lived in such misery in the Ould Country, that there was no tradition to transmit (except, duh, potatoes).   Indeed, the impression I got* was that even the things we think of as “Irish”, like corned beef and cabbage, was adapted from other immigrant cultures that were already here.  I hadn’t ever really thought about that aspect of things before, but it makes sense - compare Irish “restaurants”  in America (which is mostly pubs - french fries and beer), with the rich history of Italian food, and it makes sense.

           My only disappointment with the book is that some of the actual families (as opposed to the cultures) got sort of short shrift, but even that, I suspect, has to do with the historical record.  Some families probably left more trace than others.  In any regard, this is an interesting history of tenement life, of culinary American history, and a great read.

Categories:  Non-Fiction

*and I say that only because I read this so, so long ago. Alas for belated blogging. 

© Carrie Dunsmore 2017