Turn of the century Brooklyn was populated by a number of ethnic communities looking for "country living," and an escape from the overcrowding of Manhattan. Neighborhoods were growing fast, and factories were buying up inexpensive farm land. The era saw rural countryside transformed by industry and urban housing in Brownsville, the Greenpoint/Northside waterfront and in the Bedford section of Brooklyn.

Farms were side by side with housing developments crowded with pushcart vendors.
Immigrants created services and foods they knew from "back home," and later immigrants moved to these neighborhoods where they knew how to navigate and already had friends or relatives. Familiar foods and food habits were a part of this pattern, from kosher butchers to the special vegetables grown for ethnic dishes. Changing labor pools were creating new kinds of restaurants in the downtown area and the growing resort neighborhoods on Coney Island and Brighton Beach.

Immigrating Poles moved to South Brooklyn, Maspeth and Greenpoint, mostly working in the factories producing sugar and pottery and in the oil refineries. Polish-Americans cooked and preserved many homeland-style foods. They had fruit trees, outhouses and smokehouses, and occasionally pigs in their back yards. Huge earthenware crocks held orgorki (cucumber) in heady garlic and dill brine, or held the coarse salt and shredded cabbage that would turn to Kapusta (sauerkraut) with the help of children tamping down layers of cabbage in wooden barrels with their feet.

Every part of a pig was used after slaughter; loins and filets prepared fresh, blood was used for kiska - a sausage of groats and blood packed in intestine - or head cheese, slabs of fat were salted and preserved as svarsky, a flavoring medium used for frying potatoes, eggs, kapusta and as a base for bean soups. Clean intestine was packed with chopped pork and spices - rings of Kielbasa hung in the smokehouses.

In Greenpoint and Williamsburg, the Polish-speaking congregation of the Catholic churches of St. Stanislaus Kostka, St. Casimir and our Lady of Czestochowa conducted Swienconka, a blessing of Easter foods. In this blessing, holy water is shaken on the holiday food, and the blessing is eaten along with the food. (This blessing is still conducted. See "Polish Traditions" on LINKS page for more information.)

In Bedford-Stuyvesant and Greenpoint children snacked on turnips, corn and potatoes foraged from abundant farmland. They also built bonfires to roast vegetables, raided cherry, pear and apple trees and were rewarded with dippers of warm milk for performing odd chores such as driving wandering dogs, cows and goats from unfenced farms.

There were backyard kitchen gardens in Dutchtown and the African-American community of Weeksville. Recent archaeological digs at Weeksville found food types similar to those associated with Southern blacks, with pork bones, oyster and clam shells and fish bones among the evidence.

See Markets page for a photo of Wallabout Market.