Tuesday, June 1, 2010

It's Dinner Time! Author Jane Ziegelman at Tenement Talks

Do you know when sauerkraut, knishes and other popular ethnic specialties made their debuts in America? Have you ever wondered what the passengers on immigrant ships to the United States ate during their journey? What was a nineteenth century urban grocery store like?

Join us for our latest Tenement Talk, featuring Jane Ziegelman and her newest book 97 Orchard: An Edible History of Five Immigrant Families in One New York Tenement, and you can discover the answers to your immigrant culinary questions. In her book, Ziegelman weaves surprising historical data and various ethnic recipes as she tells the stories of five families who called the tenement at 97 Orchard home between 1863 and 1935.

Is there a better lens to tell the story of immigrants through than food? Prior to the immigration explosion of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, ethnic cuisines were largely isolated by geography. Although Americans today eat a wide variety of food, to understand our culinary history we have to imagine a time when potato salad was a foreign delicacy.

The author writes that for immigrants, cooking their native foods was (and often remains!) one of the best (and last) options they had to preserve their homeland’s culture, as they felt the pressure to become assimilated into their new nation.

Ziegelman is very descriptive in her writing and explains culinary aspects that had never even crossed my mind. She writes how the tenements must have smelled during different seasons, explaining that the smells would have been worse in the winter months, seeing as the few windows in the apartments would have been kept shut to keep the cold out. If you were living on the Lower East Side in the late nineteenth century, you would likely have smelled cabbage cooking, various meats roasting, and wood or coal smoke drifting through the air (depending on the type of stove being used).

Her book is very relevant today, as large numbers of immigrants continue to help us define American cuisine. As Ziegelman writes, “though the actors have changed, the culinary revolution that began in the nineteenth century continues today among immigrants from Asia, Africa, the Caribbean, and Latin America, who have brought their food traditions to this country and continue to transform the way America eats.”

This Tenement Talk is happening tonight, June 1 at 6:30 pm at the Museum Shop, 108 Orchard Street at Delancey. Call 212-982-8420 for questions or to pre-order a copy of the book.

-posted by Devin


  1. According to the NY Times book review, Ms. Ziegelman states in her book that the first apartments/tenements were built in Manhattan. I do want to note that as early as 1800 there was at least one multi-family building in Charleston, SC. It is commonly referred to as Vander Horst (or Vanderhorst nowadays) Row. In 1810, Mr. Vander-Horst built a second building to the North of the first and called it North Vanderhorst Row. Sadly, this second building was torn down during the Civil War. The first still stands, though.

  2. Ms. Ziegelman gives ample credit to Isaac Gellis for manufacturing the first American-made hot dogs and launching the kosher processed meat business in America, but makes an error in calling Gellis a German. He was, in fact, a native of Kretinga,Lithuania before emigrating to New York and building his factory on Orchard Street. He was a founder of the Eldridge Street Synagogue (just a few blocks from the Tenement Museum, where his bio is on display for the author/all to see.)

  3. Thanks for your informative comments. We've passed them along to Jane (she doesn't work here just yet!).


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