Grow. Cook. Drink.: The Italian Garden Project

Mary Menniti aims to preserve the legacy of immigrant gardeners.




Photo by Laura Petrilla

 

Peek into the backyards on the flats between Beaver Street and the Ohio River in Sewickley and you’ll find traces of southern Italy. Mary Menniti knows, however, that this slice of Old-World-meets-new is on the precipice of fading into history.

Take the yard of Maria and Giovanni Macchione. For years, there were scores of tomato plants growing, beans climbing up trellises and sweet grapes weaving through an arbor. The couple’s energy faded over the last few years, though, and this winter the pair left the cultivated landscape for a smaller house. Traces of the Macchiones’ labor — fig and persimmon trees — will bear fruit for years, but the stories behind them could have easily faded away without Menniti’s intervention.
Menniti founded The Italian Garden Project to ensure that the legacy of immigrants such as the Macchiones and her grandfather Antonio Martone won’t be lost.

“I assumed someone else was preserving this heritage, but the more I looked, the less I saw was documented,” she says. The project, which began as a part-time hobby, has ballooned into tours, classes and documentation in the Archives of American Gardens for the Smithsonian Institute.

Menniti is preserving the heritage of Italian American families in the United States. “For them, food is not something to be taken for granted. It’s not just about gardening. It’s about how they live lightly on the Earth,” she says.

Her work took on new weight after the past winter, when devastating frosts killed nearly all the fig trees that hadn’t been buried underground for protection from the elements.

“I saw how close we came to losing my grandfather’s tree. What a terrible loss it would be if this living heirloom was gone,” she says.

Happily, the tree — as well as the chamomile and garlic descended from seeds planted decades ago by Antonio Martone — lived on. Still, Menniti decided that her work should move beyond simple preservation into something more tangible. Cuttings from The Italian Garden Project participants’ fig trees now grow in new yards.

“I don’t want to lose this knowledge,” she says. Thanks to her efforts, the stories of these immigrant gardeners will bear fruit for years.



 

Ciambotta

Mary Menniti says this dish reminds her of her paternal grandmother, Merceda “Mary” Serafino-Martone.

Ingredients

  • 1 large onion, sliced thin
  • 10 tomatoes, diced
  • 2 red or green bell peppers, sliced thin
  • 2 small eggplants, diced
  • 4 leaves fresh basil
  • Salt
  • 2–3 eggs
  • 2–3 tablespoons olive oil


Directions
1. Add oil to a deep sauté pan, and cook onions until softened; remove onions.
2. Add peppers to the pan and sauté until soft; remove peppers.
3. Dice eggplants and add to the pan and sauté until soft; remove.
4. Add diced tomatoes to pan and stew for about 20 minutes.
5. Return the cooked onions, peppers and eggplants to the pan; add salt and basil and stew for another 15 minutes.
6. Break eggs over the tomatoes and peppers, cover and poach.
7. Serve immediately with lots of good bread.

 

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module
Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module Edit ModuleShow Tags

On the Blogs


Penguins Broadcaster Mike Lange Cutting Back This Season

Penguins Broadcaster Mike Lange Cutting Back This Season

Lange is entering his 43rd season of NHL broadcasting, all but one of which were spent with Pittsburgh

Comments


All the foodie news that's fit to blog
Meet the Federal Galley Chefs

Meet the Federal Galley Chefs

We have the lowdown on who is cooking what in the new North Side food hall from the operators of Smallman Galley.

Comments


Not just good stuff. Great stuff.
Who's Got the Cutest Pet in Pittsburgh?

Who's Got the Cutest Pet in Pittsburgh?

Announcing Pittsburgh Magazine's 2017 Cutest Pet Contest. First step –– send us a photo of your pet! We will pick 10 finalists and then you'll vote for the winner.

Comments


King Arthur's Sword Turns a Spot in Baldwin Into an Entertainment Destination

King Arthur's Sword Turns a Spot in Baldwin Into an Entertainment Destination

IQ Escape's new South Hills escape rooms elevate Crafthouse Stage & Grill and Legacy Lanes.

Comments


Mike Prisuta's Sports Section

A weekly look at the games people are playing and the people who are playing them.
Encouraging Start Only a Start for The Steelers

Encouraging Start Only a Start for The Steelers

The season's first two victories were notched against mediocre competition. Eventually, the degree of difficulty is going to ratchet up considerably.

Comments


Style. Design. Goods. Hide your credit card.
#Gottahaveit: Take It To the Hoop

#Gottahaveit: Take It To the Hoop

Robert Hallett, Goldsmith, handcrafts the jewelry in his Oakmont shop.

Comments


The movies that are playing in Pittsburgh –– and, more importantly, whether or not they're worth your time.
2017 Silk Screen Festival Focuses on Difficult, Captivating Fare

2017 Silk Screen Festival Focuses on Difficult, Captivating Fare

Reviews of three marquee films included in the 2017 Silk Screen Film Festival, plus local movie news and notes.

Comments


Everything you need to know about getting married in Pittsburgh today.
Mad Libs Adds Laughs and Advice to Pittsburgh Wedding

Mad Libs Adds Laughs and Advice to Pittsburgh Wedding

Wedding guests were asked to bring their creativity to the couple’s big day.

Comments


Weekly inspiration for your home from the editors of Pittsburgh Magazine
Tour Chatham Village, Pittsburgh’s Own Secret Garden

Tour Chatham Village, Pittsburgh’s Own Secret Garden

The home and garden tour in the historic planned garden community in the heart of Mt. Washington takes place next week.

Comments


The hottest topics in higher education
Tuition Increases at the University of Pittsburgh

Tuition Increases at the University of Pittsburgh

School trustees voted this week to increase tuition for in-state and out-of-state students.

Comments

Edit Module

Edit Module