Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Pasta, Fried Rice, and Matzo Balls: Immigrant Cooking in America

Pasta, Fried Rice, and Matzo Balls: Immigrant Cooking in America

Loretta Frances Ichord
Illustrator:  Jan Davey Ellis 
Nonfiction Picture Book
For ages 8 to 12
Millbrook, 2005   ISBN: 978-0761329138

The United States is truly a country of immigrants. Just go into a restaurant or shop in any big city in the United States and ask people what their last names are and you will see how true this is. People came from many countries to find new opportunities in America. Sometimes they were fleeing political or religious persecution. Sometimes their homeland was in the middle of a war or a terrible natural disaster. Whatever the reason, they came to the United States to start afresh. They often brought very little with them and to help with the transition they would try to find a way to continue to cook the foods that were familiar to them. Thus the Italians made their pasta and their special cheeses; the Poles made their sausages; the Jews made their gefilte fish; and the Germans made their sauerkraut. Their food gave these newcomers a way to hold onto their traditions and thankfully many of these traditions as still alive and well today.

In this fascinating book the author explores how some of the immigrant groups who came to America brought their foods with them and how these foods impacted our national cuisine. She begins with the Spanish who, among other things, brought citrus trees and grapes to California. They also were the first people to raise large herds of animals for meat.

Next she talks about the French who settled in Louisiana and who gave raise to what we now call Cajun and Creole cooking. Cajun cooking is famous for it pepper hot flavors while Creole cuisine is perhaps more refined and fancified.

The Dutch brought several foods with them which American’s would be hard pressed to do without: doughnuts, waffles, and cocoa are all Dutch creations. German cooking too has a large presence on American menus. Where would baseball fans be without their frankfurters (hotdogs) and sauerkraut, and how would picnics and cookouts fare without potato salad.

Then of course there are the Italians specialties. It is hard to imagine how we would survive without pasta and pizza today and yet, believe it or not, there was a time when such foods that were only found in the Italian immigrant sections of town. No one else would dream of eating this immigrant fare.

The author of this book not only tell us about the history of the cuisine of several of the main immigrant groups who came to America, but in many cases she includes a couple of recipes for readers to try for themselves. Thus in the Swedish section readers can try making Swedish meatballs and in the Italian section they can try their hand at making gnocchi.

The descriptions for each section in this book are well written, interesting, and carefully researched. Readers will discover that food can have an enormous impact on a culture and vice versa. As they read they may even find themselves wondering what kinds of specialties and recipes lie buried in their family tree.