To Love One’s Vegetables and Philosophy Too

My Sicilian relatives never lived on the East Coast. They immediately headed to Oregon where they’d heard the soil was good and cities were open for business. They were truck farmers vending fruits and vegetables during the first generation, a dream that would never have been possible in Sicily.
My grandfather Salvatore (aka Sam), the son of these immigrants, met his American wife while vending food for his family in Portland. Born and raised in Oregon, he was a Sicilian-American who liked to draw, and was a skilled sign painter before WWII. Virginia, his future wife, was in the stall across from his, vending produce for her family, but their farm was run by her mother, a divorced Catholic woman, a feminist, and Virginia’s two younger brothers.
Sam fell in love with her blue-grey eyes and she with his large brown ones. Despite their different backgrounds, they were both Catholic (Alsatian German on Grandma’s side), and they both loved gardening, farming, family, and their home state of Oregon.
So much of who I am is in their stories, and I am blessed to have known both my Sicilian great-grandmother Rosaria, and my feminist great-grandmother Mary. My Grandma Virginia was my rock for many years, but my Grandpa Sam passed away the year before my birth. I think because of this I was destined to be so close to his wife.
When I met my husband during college I realized that I’d been wanting the wrong thing for many years. One day, while eating anchovies out of a jar together, we realized it was the end of dating for both of us. Back then we would talk about food for hours and hours, discussing gardening, and farming, and soon we both realized that we were more Italian than we had thought. Sure Italians love their food, but they love growing it too. (Ugh, I just realized, ten years later and we STILL talk about the same things.)

Last night I couldn’t sleep because I have a cold—in addition to the regular health complications—so I grabbed two books to read from off my bedside bookshelves. For a moment I reflected on the choices and they made me laugh. (I highly recommend both, but only one is really about gardening while the other is about stuff you might think about while gardening.)

Angelo Pellegrini may already be familiar to some of you because Mario Batali happened to write the Introduction to the Modern Library’s Food Series edition of The Unprejudiced Palate: Classic Thoughts on Food and the Good Life (1948). This book is a modern classic and a foodie favorite. (He is also likely the first author of a pesto recipe published in the United States. See Wikipedia entry: Wikipedia: Angelo Pellegrini.)

In The Food-Lover’s Garden (1970), Pellegrini attacks the topic of small lot gardening—the Italian way of course. Included are the uncommon cardoon—a personal favorite of mine—as well as advice based upon his experiences while gardening in the Seattle area. (Yes, this is another spaghetti westerner, much like the Batali family, and my own.) He describes in great detail his kitchen garden while at the same time throwing in whatever else he finds important. He describes so well the gardens of the old Italians I used to haunt when I was still a small child, and which I only knew briefly, but am haunted by in my memory and in the photographs of my extended family. This year I will be making my own and I think that I have chosen to use his book as my guidepost, and my husband as co-pilot.

This brings me to the other book, a philosophy text written by the Booker prize winning author and philosopher Iris Murdoch. I know that few people read philosophy books, but I do, and I love them even if I don’t always understand them. That’s where my husband comes back into this, and my grandmother, and my roots. I love to talk about plants, the meaning of the universe, and to look at the stars when it isn’t pouring rain with thick clouds overhead. It is probably no accident that my husband is a winemaker. I am a feminist, and I thank all of you who dined before me, wiping the table, doing the dishes, and then putting them all away. Somehow making your legacy the whole time, moving westward always, the path led to me. Thank you and I dedicate my garden to all of you, as most gardeners do, tending soil, the heritage sport of summertime.

6 thoughts on “To Love One’s Vegetables and Philosophy Too

  1. What a great post. Nothing better than curling up with a good book when you're feel punky. And connecting with family history and your heritage–excellent. Hope you make it to the east coast sometime to explore your history even more.


  2. Aerie-el & Tufa Girl,
    Thanks so much and Aerie-el, I am descended from a Dutch settler of New Amsterdam so I always love visits to New York City. It really blows my mind to think about how many people I am related to as well!


  3. Lovely wedding photos depicting such happy memories! In the end we always go back to our roots..who we are and our forefathers before us and we carry on in our lives and to our future generations. Lovely tribute to those loveable persons who shaped our lives!


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