Halgrimson: Book explores food, lifestyle of migrantsIn her book, “97 Orchard: An Edible History of Five Immigrant Families in One New York Tenement,” author Jane Ziegelman tells the story of families in a single apartment building in New York between 1863 and 1935.
By: Andrea Hunter Halgrimson, INFORUM
In her book, “97 Orchard: An Edible History of Five Immigrant Families in One New York Tenement,” author Jane Ziegelman tells the story of families in a single apartment building in New York between 1863 and 1935.
She chronicles the families from the perspective of the foods they ate. After all, food, its availability and distribution tells us the history of the world.
Ziegelman’s book describes the challenges met by five major immigrant groups – Germans, Irish, German Jews, Russian-Lithuanian Jews and Italians.
On their arrival, immigrants were taken by barge to Ellis Island. Three groups of people were detained on the Island: women traveling alone had to wait until a male relative came to get them; family members of immigrants who were held in the Ellis Island hospital had to stay; and immigrants who were “not clearly and beyond a doubt entitled to land” were kept and often deported. The majority of immigrants who were deported were rejected as paupers.
The Ellis Island dormitories held 3,000 people. In the dining room, immigrants ate in shifts of 1,000 people for each of the three meals a day.
After settling in at 97 Orchard, which was located on the Lower East Side, the immigrants dined on “pork and beans, beef hash, corned beef with cabbage and potatoes, Yankee pot roast and boiled mutton.”
Breakfast consisted of cooked cereals while the midday meal was built around protein and starch. Vegetables were limited to peas, beans and cabbage. Milk, however, was always available for the children.
The Lower East Side was rife with pushcarts selling all manner of food, and there were large indoor markets filled with stalls selling goods. There were also fish markets.
The book is studded with recipes used by immigrant wives and mothers, although most of them would take a knowing cook to execute them now.
The building that Ziegelman writes of is still standing and has become the Tenement Museum. It can be seen online at www.tenement.org.
While many of us in this area have family members who entered the United States via Ellis Island, most of them did not stay in New York City. But reading this book gave me a feel for what the times were like when my grandmother came from Norway in her late teens.
Although she did not stay in New York after coming through Ellis Island in the early 1900s, this book gives a good picture of what American food in my grandma’s time was like.
I found the book fascinating and was amazed at what the immigrants lived on and that they survived.
Readers can reach Andrea Hunter Halgrimson at firstname.lastname@example.org