Among the proposals on our blog's Suggested Reading page, the title 97 Orchard: An Edible History of Five Immigrant Families in One New York Tenement by Jane Ziegelman intrigued me, so I chose it as my selection for this round. As with other titles in past editions, this book provides a historical perspective on the foods we bring on our table. Thank you, Lynda, for the suggestion.
A good part of the book's appeal is due to the fact that I am an immigrant myself and have direct experience of, and perspective on, the process of transplanting one's culinary traditions into another country's soil.
Ziegelman 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.
You may also find this interview with the author aired on NPR of interest.
I am looking forward to reading this book and being inspired by it in the kitchen with all of you.
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Remember that anyone can participate in Cook the Books: simply pick up a copy of the selection from your local bookstore or library, take inspiration from said reading, cook and post the inspired dish. We look forward to having you read and cook along with us in this selection period and beyond. New participants are always welcome. (Leave a comment here or check out our Guidelines page if you have any questions.)