I hope you’ve enjoyed meeting the Glockner and Moore families. In the first two chapters we learn about their moves to America and how each in its own ways influences or adapts to a completely new life.
The 1840s German immigrant Lucas Glockner and his family are 97 Orchard’s builders and original tenants. Built on the site of the Dutch Reformed Presbyterian Church, it is eventually one of several properties owned by Glockner, who by his late fifties is living comfortably as a “rent-collecting landlord.”
Bridget Meehan, meanwhile, travels to America in 1863. Bridget, then 17, arrives in New York from her homeland of Ireland. It’s not clear if she is single or already engaged to Joseph Moore, who follows Bridget’s move two years later and by the end of the year marries her. Bridget finds work as a servant and Joseph as a waiter. The couple and their children move to 97 Orchard in 1869.
It seems German immigrants were able to bring along their foods—many of them new to native-born Americans—and so influenced the demand in the U.S. for these items. Irish immigrants, like Bridget and Joseph, had the opposite experience: Many of the foods in America that they found familiar were common to other immigrant groups and not necessarily “Irish”; there was more of a longing for true Irish home cooking. Their reminiscing about oatmeal and potatoes was done with great fondness, if not slightly overexaggerated!
I smiled reading about some of the smaller details that can still be seen in present-day New York: the “sauerkraut men” as the early version of hot dog vendors; public markets that offered an amazing variety of produce, meat, and fish (and an even better selection if you were—are—willing to get there early and fight it out with local chefs and restaurant owners). And, of course, the living space: I think anyone who has searched for an apartment in New York can attest to the tight quarters and lack of “amenities.” I’m looking now for a new apartment and saw one just the other day that was beautiful but had no oven in the kitchen. No oven?!? But that is nothing compared to the conditions at 97 Orchard. The women in these families were challenged daily with preparing meals in a building that offered no plumbing or refrigeration, having to deal with—in Bridget’s case, at least—foreign equipment and food. Not to mention the struggling they had to do to pay for that food.
But I think the most important parallel to today’s New York is the ethnic communities still present in specific neighborhoods. Neighborhoods in Brooklyn like Brighton Beach, Gerritsen Beach, and Manhattan Beach have high concentrations of Russian, German, and Italian immigrants, respectively. Astoria, Queens, has some of the best Greek restaurants and pastry shops I’ve ever been to. Is it simply, as the author explains, natural for people to settle in areas that offer comfort and familiarity? Or does the Greek community in Queens, for example, influence the type of foods and shops in that neighborhood? Maybe it’s a little of both.
We’ll read about the Gumpertz family and the Rogarshevsky family next. See you back here next Friday (September 17) to chat about it!
It’s now home to the Lower East Side Tenement Museum, where the book’s author, Jane Ziegelman, is director of its culinary program.
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