One of the first sights that greeted immigrants in New York, right after the Statue of Liberty, was a prune sandwich. The offending object appeared on the menu in the vast dining hall at Ellis Island, and it served as a warning that food was going to be a cultural struggle in this strange land. Keeping faith with their native cuisines, the newcomers made a series of counteroffers — sauerkraut, spaghetti, borscht — that changed the national palate forever. Jane Ziegelman tells this story exuberantly in “97 Orchard: An Edible History of Five Immigrant Families in One New York Tenement.” Highly entertaining and deceptively ambitious, the book resurrects the juicy details of breakfast, lunch and dinner (recipes included) consumed by poor and working-class New Yorkers a century and more ago. It could well have been subtitled “How the Other Half Ate.” The address is a conceit. Ninety-seven Orchard Street was a Lower East Side tenement building, constructed in the 1860s, that at different times housed the five families in the book: the Glockners (German), the Moores (Irish), the Gumpertzes (German Jewish) the Rogarshevskys (Lithuanian-Russian Jewish) and the Baldizzis (Italian). It is now the location of the Tenement Museum, where Ziegelman, the founder and director of a multiethnic cooking program for children, is in charge of a new culinary center.
more from William Grimes at the NYT here.