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 ModuleShow Tags

Hot Reads

Top 10 Things to Do in Pittsburgh in April

Top 10 Things to Do in Pittsburgh in April

This month's best bets in the ’Burgh.
Take a Hike: 10 of the Best Trails in the Pittsburgh Area

Take a Hike: 10 of the Best Trails in the Pittsburgh Area

Lace up your sneakers or hiking boots and head outdoors for 10 great walks for spring.
412 Food Rescue: Revolutionary Repurposing

412 Food Rescue: Revolutionary Repurposing

Local nonprofit organization 412 Food Rescue is taking food that otherwise would be tossed aside and connecting it with those in need through-of-the-moment technology.
Spring Fashion: The Height of White

Spring Fashion: The Height of White

Fashion is white haute this spring with the best looks from local stores.
Edit ModuleShow Tags

The 412

PA Turnpike: In E-ZPass We Trust, and You Should Too

PA Turnpike: In E-ZPass We Trust, and You Should Too

The turnpike wants to educate drivers to some changes arriving soon at toll booths.
It's a Sign: Could Pittsburgh Be the New Hollywood?

It's a Sign: Could Pittsburgh Be the New Hollywood?

Pittsburgh could be well on its way to replicating one of Hollywood’s most prominent landmarks.
Where in Pittsburgh to Dump Your Old TV or Computer

Where in Pittsburgh to Dump Your Old TV or Computer

You are going to want to print this list and keep it handy.
Watch: Jameson Taillon's Remarkable Recovery

Watch: Jameson Taillon's Remarkable Recovery

Sports media company Whistle Sports documented Pirates pitcher Jameson Taillon's recovery workout regime.
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Hot Reads

Top 10 Things to Do in Pittsburgh in April

Top 10 Things to Do in Pittsburgh in April

This month's best bets in the ’Burgh.
Take a Hike: 10 of the Best Trails in the Pittsburgh Area

Take a Hike: 10 of the Best Trails in the Pittsburgh Area

Lace up your sneakers or hiking boots and head outdoors for 10 great walks for spring.
412 Food Rescue: Revolutionary Repurposing

412 Food Rescue: Revolutionary Repurposing

Local nonprofit organization 412 Food Rescue is taking food that otherwise would be tossed aside and connecting it with those in need through-of-the-moment technology.
Spring Fashion: The Height of White

Spring Fashion: The Height of White

Fashion is white haute this spring with the best looks from local stores.
Restaurant Review: Pork & Beans

Restaurant Review: Pork & Beans

The latest restaurant from the Richard DeShantz Restaurant Group brings Texas-style smoked meats and more to Downtown.
Daytripping: Brave the Cave

Daytripping: Brave the Cave

Go subterranean at Laurel Caverns, the largest cave in Pennsylvania.
Edit Module
Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow Tags

On the Blogs


PA Turnpike: In E-ZPass We Trust, and You Should Too

PA Turnpike: In E-ZPass We Trust, and You Should Too

The turnpike wants to educate drivers to some changes arriving soon at toll booths.

Comments


All the foodie news that's fit to blog
Dish Osteria and Bar To Close

Dish Osteria and Bar To Close

The beloved Pittsburgh institution will serve its last meal in April.

Comments


Not just good stuff. Great stuff.
Five Inexpensive But Memorable Date Spots in Pittsburgh

Five Inexpensive But Memorable Date Spots in Pittsburgh

These spots are tailored for couples who are looking for a simple, chill night out on Valentine’s Day (or any other day). If your significant other isn’t the type to be wooed by expensive wines and chocolates, this is the list for you.

Comments


Market Square's Big New Bar is Surprisingly Good

Market Square's Big New Bar is Surprisingly Good

You may not want to be charmed by City Works, but the beer-and-bites spot will likely win you over.

Comments


Mike Prisuta's Sports Section

A weekly look at the games people are playing and the people who are playing them.
Steelers’ Philosophy Back on Display After Hightower Flirtation

Steelers’ Philosophy Back on Display After Hightower Flirtation

Even as they entertained Dont’a Hightower for nearly seven hours during a free-agent recruiting trip to the South Side, the Steelers never lost sight of who they are or what they’re all about.

Comments


Style. Design. Goods. Hide your credit card.
Turn Your Bath into a Spa with These Oils

Turn Your Bath into a Spa with These Oils

The miniature bath- and shower-oil collection from Aromatherapy Associates makes every shower a luxury experience.

Comments


The movies that are playing in Pittsburgh –– and, more importantly, whether or not they're worth your time.
The CMU Film Fest Opens with One of 2016's Best

The CMU Film Fest Opens with One of 2016's Best

Reviews of two films appearing at the 2017 Carnegie Mellon International Film Festival: "I, Daniel Blake," and "The Eagle Huntress." Plus local movie news and notes.

Comments


Everything you need to know about getting married in Pittsburgh today.
Combating the Cold: How This Couple Pulled Off Their Winter Wedding

Combating the Cold: How This Couple Pulled Off Their Winter Wedding

Happy to see warmer weather? This gorgeous winter wedding may actually have you missing the snow.

Comments


Weekly inspiration for your home from the editors of Pittsburgh Magazine
Auction Alert: Own a Piece of Artistry

Auction Alert: Own a Piece of Artistry

Looking for a unique piece? Inventory from Artistry, which closed up shop in the Strip District after more than 25 years in business, will be sold at auction this weekend.

Comments


The hottest topics in higher education
A New Kind of Summer at Slippery Rock University

A New Kind of Summer at Slippery Rock University

The university will hold an environmental camp at the end of June.

Comments