A Few Words From Jane Ziegelman

Hello, Bookies:

We got a very nice e-mail back from 97 Orchard author Jane Ziegelman, who was kind enough to answer a few questions we passed on. Here’s what she had to say:

Where did the idea of describing the immigration experience through food come from?

I became interested in the connections between food and culture when I was a graduate student at NYU studying anthropology. It seems to me that food provides a very particular kind of window onto other cultures or historic periods. Because of our elemental feelings about food, looking at food customs and traditions gives one access to some of our most deeply held beliefs and assumptions. So much of who we are is tied up in what we eat.

Did she identify particularly with any of the families?

I really came to identify with the Moore family. This was partly because I had access to letters written by 19th-century Irish immigrants, and reading those letters was a kind of wake-up experience. It allowed me to imagine the feelings of dislocation, the fear, the loneliness—and to admire the women in these stories who scrambled and scratched and clawed their way through life. They were real fighters.

What was her own family’s history in terms of foods and customs?

My own background is Jewish/Eastern European. My father was born in Poland and came to the US just before WWII. My mother is of Russian/Hungarian descent. To tell you the truth, food was not a big deal in my immediate. My culinary hero was my paternal grandmother, who made traditional Jewish food—chicken soup, stuffed breast of veal, rugalach, honey cake. Contrary to stereotype, everything she cooked was extremely delicate and refined. Though she is still alive at 104, her cooking days are behind her. Luckily, I have and use many of her recipes.

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