Welcome to America

My husband, Regis, is  into genealogy and tracing his families roots. He loves to do research and has had great success. Recently I asked him if he has found any relatives that came to the United States via Ellis Island. He has not; nor has any of my family been identified as having done so.

This made me recall a visit that we made to Ellis Island many years ago. It was incredible. I could almost feel the millions of people who passed through the doors, their hopes and dreams, their fears of the unknown, the happiness of new opportunities mixed with the sadness of leaving loved ones, frustration due to language barriers and the uncertainty that they would even be allowed to enter. To travel in Steerage Class must have been horrific. The overcrowded conditions, minimal facilities, poor food, and being allowed on the deck for only a brief time daily. Perhaps some wished that they had never left home.

Interestingly,  Ellis Island was first called Kioshk, meaning Gull Island, by Native Americans in the 1600's. It was a 3.3 acre sandbank surrounded  by oyster beds. Later known as one of the Oyster Islands, the island became a favorite fishing spot for the dutch. The island changed hands several time until it was purchased by the Federal Government for $10,000 in 1808. It was not used as an immigration site until January 1, 1892 when Annie Moore from County Cork, Ireland, arrived. Ellis Island closed on November 29, 1954, having processed over 12 million immigrants.

Those traveling in Steerage-Class were provided with little to eat except lukewarm soups, black bread, boiled potatoes, herring, or stringy beef. In the early years of Ellis Island, the food was not much better. Corruption became rampant and the detained immigrants were generally served stewed prunes over dried bread. Often there was no cutlery and sanitary conditions were minimal if at all.

As time went on, the corruption was brought under control and conditions improved. The food was better and the facilities were better maintained. Kosher and ethnic meals were provided, which both solved and created problems. An immigrant appearing at the wrong seating might be exposed to unfamiliar foods. White bread was thought to be cake and bananas were a complete enigma!

Most immigrants were not detained and were destined for points beyond New York City. Provisions were available for the trip, boxes of food, fifty cents for a small one and one dollar for a large one. The contents of each box were printed on the sides, with corresponding prices, in several languages: two pounds of bread, eight cents; one pound cervelat sausage, twenty-two cents; five sandwiches, twenty cents; four pies, twenty cents; two boxes of cake, twenty cents; oranges or apples, ten cents.

Mealtimes were one of the few times that the detained immigrants were reunited with family members. The enormity of their decision to come to America probably struck home when they sat down to eat and did not know what they were eating, or how they were to eat it. No doubt they were quite anxious to recreate the comforting smells and tastes of the foods they had left behind.

The only memento I purchased from our visit was a cookbook, The Ellis Island Immigrant Cookbook. Not only a cookbook, it tells stories of those whose recipes these are.  It is rich with history and brings to life the recipes and people who came to America. Truly, a cookbook that should be in every kitchen.

Here are a sampling of the recipes. They are typed just as they are printed in the cookbook.

Little Grandma's Anisschnitte (Germany)

4 egg whites
1 cup sugar
1/2 lemon (rind and juice)
2 teaspoons anise seed
6 egg yolks
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder

Beat egg white stiff, slowly add sugar, then yolk, keep beating and add juice and grated rind. Then add flour, anise seed, and baking powder. Grease and flour a 16" x 10" pan. Spread dough evenly and bake 15 - 20 minutes at 350 degrees. Cut unto bars and toast in oven at 350 degrees until slightly golden.

Greek Chicken Pouloff (Greece)

1 stewing hen
1 large onion, diced
1 #2 can tomatoes
1 8 oz. can tomato paste
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 Tablespoon dried parsley
   garlic, as desired
   salt & pepper, to taste

Add enough water to above to cook chicken until well done. Remove chicken. To liquid add 2/3 cup rice and enough liquid to cook rice. Remove chicken from bone and add to cooked rice mixture.

Biscuit de Reims (Belgium)
Birthday Cake

Take 9 eggs, weigh them and take same weight in sugar
Take 6 eggs, weigh them and take same wight in flour
Take 3 eggs, weigh them and take the same amount of butter

Beat the whites of 9 eggs still stiff. Fold in sugar. Then add the 9 egg yolks, well-beaten. Pour in flour gradually. Pout in melted butter. Start baking in slow oven - increase to moderate. It takes at least 1 hour to bake. A delicious cake!

Welcome to America!