Friday Reads: 97 Orchard


“Friday Reads” is a weekly blog written by reference librarian Faith Lee about great books, magazines, and the occasional reference work.  Topics may be new titles added to the library, selections from the Staff Picks shelf or about something she recently read.  Admittedly, there is a definite slant toward nonfiction, because, well, she’s a reference librarian and likes to learn new things.  Guest bloggers take a turn sometimes too.  No matter the source, good reads are featured here. 

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The library’s Narrative Nonfiction Book Club had another lively time at our meeting this month when we discussed 97 Orchard:  an edible history of five immigrant families in one New York tenement by Jane Ziegelman.  Actually, I was a little surprised at how enthusiastic many members of the group were about the book.  I expected them to find it interesting and informative, but I underestimated just how much they would connect with parts of it.

97 Orchard tells the story of five families who lived in the tenement building at 97 Orchard Street in the Lower East Side of Manhattan from the late 1800s until the 1930s.  The building is now the New York Tenement Museum and the author, Jane Zeigelman, is the director of the culinary program there. Through meticulous research using a wide variety of resources Ziegelman discovers the significance of foods in the lives of the Glockner family from Germany, the Moores from Ireland, The Gumpertzes, who were German Jews, the Rogarshevskys, who were Lithuanian Jews, and the Baldizzi family from Italy.

At times the reader feels as though she is in the cramped tenement apartment at the supper table or buying ingredients alongside the mother of the family from the pushcart vendor on the street, the writing is that compelling.  At other times, though, the style is journalistic as the perspective pans back to show how these families fit into the broader fabric of the city and their unique food cultures intertwined with established American food norms.

The group was delighted to learn several factoids, such as: corned beef and cabbage is not a traditional dish from Ireland – rather it is Germanic in origin; schmaltz is fat from a goose or chicken and “the greatest contribution made by German bakers to the American kitchen came in the form of yeast-baked cakes, which began to appear in East Side bakeries during the second half of the nineteenth century.” (p. 30) Have you used Fleischmann’s Instant Yeast in your baking?  Three Fleischmann brothers who immigrated from Vienna: Max, Charles and Louis,  are responsible for bringing yeast to our country.  Louis created quite the sensation in New York City with his Vienna Bakery and neighboring café, which was the place to be for the elite class in the 1880s and 90s.  

You can find 97 Orchard on the Staff Picks shelf.  Join us next month when the Narrative Nonfiction Book Club discuss Mrs. Sherlock Holmes:  the true story of New York City’s greatest female detective and the 1917 missing girl case that captivated a nation by Brad Ricca.  Pick up a copy of the book at the reference desk and plan to meet us on Thursday, September 6, 2018 from 10:00 – 11:00 in the Hermann Foundation meeting room at Falmouth Public Library.

Photo of Fleischmann’s Yeast advertising card (1870- 1900) from the digital commonwealth.  Card owned by Boston Public Library print department.  Photo of  schmaltz from

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