Pigeon and Squab

My grandmother, Ida Liva Mattei, with her father, oldest son and grandchildren in Nona’s backyard ‘farm’ in Norwood, Ohio

My Italian-American family loves to talk food.

So after I ate at Chez Panisse for the first time in 1990, the first thing I did was call my father. I started to rave about the main course – the best poultry I’d ever eaten. “What was it” asked Dad. “Squab, you know, pigeon.” I replied, “It was amazing. So much more flavor than chicken.”

Dad laughed and then groaned. “Edamarie, I will never eat pigeon again.”

Dad was born in 1925 and grew up during the Great Depression. He and his family survived the Depression because my grandparent’s small Cincinnati backyard was a small farm, not a lawn.
The family grew and preserved their own produce, raised chickens, rabbits and pigeons, collected coal that fell off trains that ran along the tracks next to their house for heat, and spent the precious money my grandfathers earned on olive oil and Parmesan.

I grew up in suburban New Jersey in a split-level house built on what had previously been Quaker farmland with a 2-car garage and a large lawn. Except for a few tomato and zucchini plants in the summer, all our food came from grocery stores and local farmstands.

The South Jersey house I grew up in built on old Quaker farmland

Dad ate pigeon. I ate squab.

My grandparents grew sustenance on productive land in order to survive.

My college-educated parents grew lawn that we used for games of tag and our swing set.

In the 1970’s, my parent’s use of land was called ‘progress’. In the 1990’s, that first great meal at Chez Panisse awakened me to an ever-deepening understanding of the environmental degradation our suburban plots and industrial agricultural system have created. The more I learned, the more I wanted to return to gardens.

Eventually, I quit my job as a teacher to study sustainable land systems and begin building them through the company I named for my grandparents, Backyard Bounty.

As we isolate to contain Covid-19, we are all reminded of how powerful nature is and how much we need it to survive.

Now is the time to learn about the native plants that we can grow to maintain habitat and bio-diversity.

Now is the time to learn how to grow herbs and vegetables to sustain us in organic, bio-dynamic systems.

All of us at Backyard Bounty are busy figuring out ways to share this knowledge with our community, through our blog, Instagram posts, and emails like this.

We’re posting weekly information about native plants blooming now, finding them in walks in the woods our neighborhoods or in the Lee Dennison Sustainable Garden demonstration garden we recently designed and installed in the Town of Chevy Chase. After installation in Fall 2019, the garden is just now starting to have its first blooms.

We’ve started up our own backyard and indoor ‘Victory Gardens’ and are taking pictures to show you what we are growing and how we are growing it.

If you are looking for cooking inspiration, my cousin Julie Mattei has compiled a collection of Italian family recipes and stories inspired by our grandparents at her site Delicious Memories.

Our hope is that we’ll inspire you the way we are inspired to get outside and cherish nature to use our land constructively and productively. Now, more than ever, we need it to survive.

The menu from my first dinner at Alice Water’s Chez Panisse in Berkeley


Stay safe, take care of those around you, and go out in a garden.