Jane Ziegelman's "97 Orchard," about immigrants' contributions to US cuisine

Sunday, July 18, 2010


An Edible History of Five Immigrant Families in One New York Tenement

By Jane Ziegelman

Smithsonian/Harper. 253 pp. $25.99

Modern American cuisine was born in 19th-century New York when immigrants forked over their varied gastronomic habits. So says Jane Ziegelman in her delightful book "97 Orchard." The subtitle, however, is a bit misleading. Ziegelman does check in with five immigrant families in one Lower East Side apartment house, but they are only bit players in a broader exploration of New York's culinary evolution.

Throughout we see the rudiments of modern American cuisine. Here's the sphere of ground beef that will one day become hamburger, and over there a vendor selling 15-cent pails of cabbage and corned beef -- early takeout. Immigrants also contributed wursts, matzoh balls and spaghetti, among other staples. As Ziegelman writes, "Native-born Americans, wary of foreigners and their strange eating habits, pushed aside their culinary (and other) prejudices to sample these novel foods and eventually to claim them as their own."

-- Timothy R. Smith

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