In the final chapter of 97 Orchard, we meet the Baldizzi family. Adolfo and Rosaria Baldizzi are part of a wave of immigrants that enter the country illegally to avoid the quota laws of the 1920s. The Baldizzis, the most modern of the families covered in the book, live on Orchard Street during the Depression and like many families at that time have little money to spare for anything but necessities—like food. Pantry staples such as bread, pasta, and beans are supplemented by government-provided groceries (weekly trips to a local food bank for these much-needed supplies are described as public walks of shame).
The family is introduced to foods like oatmeal, butter, American cheese, and milk. But a treat for the Baldizzi family is pizza: Sicilian bread, halved and rubbed with olive oil and cheese and baked in the oven. Rosaria serves it to the kids and says, “You see? You are somebody!” The power of food to elevate spirits seems like a recurring theme for the family. And food—particularly pastries and candies—is considered a treat or reward. The book comes to an end on New Year’s Eve with Rosaria frying sfinge (which don’t sound far off from Italian zeppoli served at street fairs). She dips them in sugar and serves them to the children so “their first taste of the New Year would be sweet.”
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this chapter and the book as a whole. Did you find any of the families’ stories more interesting than others? Author Jane Ziegelman has graciously agreed to field questions from the Real Simple audience. I know there were a few questions that went through my mind, like: Where did the idea of describing the immigration experience through food come from? Did she identify particularly with any of the families? And what was her own family’s history in terms of foods and customs? Feel free to jump in and post your own questions or comments for Jane below by 3 p.m. ET next Friday, October 1.
In the meantime, I have to mention a documentary that aired years ago on PBS that kept coming to mind as I read 97 Orchard: Ric Burns’s New York: A Documentary Film. If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend it. It’s a seven-part series about the history of New York from the 1600s to 2000. PBS re-airs it every now and then (I believe it’s on DVD as well), and if I happen to catch it, I am hooked for 14 hours! It shares many of the same stories and themes as 97 Orchard.
Many thanks for being part of this month’s discussions! I look forward to reading your comments and questions.
Are you reading this via an e-mail or RSS feed? If you wish to comment, please click here.