Seeds with a Story

Seed stories are an opportunity to share stories that honor and elevate the history, work and dedication of our local seed champions. Please let us know if you have a noteworthy story you would like to share.

Panzarella Purple Sicilian Garlic

by Vincent Panzarella

Panzarella's Sicilian Garlic


My great grandfather, Vincent Panzarella, boarded a vessel called The Patria (Latin for fatherland) and traveled from Montemaggiore, Sicily to America in August of 1920. His father, my great-great grandfather, felt Sicily had become too dangerous. Vincent arrived at Ellis Island on September 19, 1920. The boarding papers list his name as Innocenzo Panzarella. Since Vincent is the English translation of Innocenzo, he adopted that name as his own. From New York he took a train to Painesville, Ohio where Mary Pace, the American born daughter of another Montemaggiore family, was there to meet him. Mary and Vincent were married in October of 1922. They had six children between the years of 1923 and 1931.

The Garlic

In 1947, after the end of the Second World War, Vincent flew back to Sicily to visit his father and other family members. He returned to the United States with two hidden bulbs of garlic. It was illegal to bring produce of any kind across the border, so he took a huge chance and kept the bulbs concealed in his pockets. Vincent loved the garlic from Montemaggiore and hadn’t found anything comparable in America. At home in Painesville, Vincent planted the bulbs in his backyard. Those two bulbs of garlic begat approximately twenty two new bulbs the following year.

These bulbs were precious to my great grandfather; no one was allowed to touch them, with the exception of my great grandmother. But even Mary, as beloved as she was, was only allowed the use of a single bulb a year for the purpose of making her family’s spaghetti sauce. The rest of the bulbs were set aside for seeds.

This is how the Panzarella Purple Sicilian Garlic was introduced to our family and this country. (My grandfather, Vincent Joseph Panzarella is the one who came up with the name, on account of the garlic’s purple eggplant color).


Our family has grown this same garlic for 66 years in Painesville and Fairport. All six of Vincent and Mary’s children and their spouses currently have Purple Sicilian Garlic sprouting in their gardens. For a period of time in the 1970’s, 80’s and 90’s, the Panzarella family jointly cared for a large garden on Jackson Street, which housed many of these bulbs. This garlic is one of our family’s most precious heirlooms and provides us with a large sense of pride. It doesn’t hurt that the garlic is absolutely delicious.

Today the many generations of Panzarella descendants,  including the Panzarellas, Kings, Yagers and the Downeys, honor the legacy of our great grandfather with a traditional Spaghetti Sunday dinner. At these meals, friends and company are always welcomed with open arms. The spaghetti and company are always great, but the sauce, made with the Panzarella Purple Sicilian Garlic, is always the biggest hit. It’s a good thing my family believes in large portions!

Cloves of the Panzarella Purple Sicilian Garlic are available from Cleveland Seed Bank member Zack Hribar (username: kingfisher), who shared the following personal story:

“As Poppop grew older, “going to be 90” as he would say, he was no longer able to plant his own garlic. I was asked to plant his garden by his grandson Vincent. I accepted the honor, understanding the tradition that grows deep in the soil. On November 7, 2012, I planted over 200 cloves of garlic into the clay soils of Poppop’s backyard. A month later, at my grandmother’s funeral (who was very good friends with Mr. Panzarella), Poppop asked to see the man who planted his garlic. As I walked over to his smiling face, he expressed his sincere gratitude. Sitting beside him, he told me the story of his father and the garlic. He began to cry with uncontrollable happiness. That moment with him at my grandmother’s funeral will live with me forever. Just a month after that day, Poppop passed on knowing that his garlic will continue to grow yet another year. Through sharing his story and cloves of his Purple Sicilian Garlic, Vincent “Poppop” Panzarella will never be forgotten.”