Like many Italian farmers in the late nineteenth century, the Picetti family dreamed of a better life. So in the 1800s, they joined thousands of immigrants who had crossed the Atlantic in search of opportunity in America. They brought only a few prized possessions, but one of them would turn out to be their greatest treasure: their family recipe for Pesto alla Genovese, classic Genoa-style basil pesto.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Our American story really begins around the turn of the century, when Guglielmo Armanino left Varese Ligure, the picturesque hilltown near Genoa on Italy’s northern Mediterranean coast in search of farming work in the US.
Like the Picettis and so many other Italian emigrants before him, he set his sites on the San Francisco area, where the latitude, hilly terrain and mild coastal climate are about as close to Liguria’s as you can find in the US.
Guglielmo found work as a farmhand, but when World War I broke out, he returned to Italy and joined the army. But his American experience had changed him. He had seen the promise of opportunity, and it was impossible to resist. In 1921, he moved back to San Francisco and soon became a US citizen.
He started farming in the Bayview region San Francisco’s south side, an area know at the time as Butcher Town, because it was home to the city’s cattle ranches and slaughterhouses as well as a bustling farmers’ market.
Through the tightly knit Ligurian immigrant community, it didn’t take long for Guglielmo to meet the love of his life, Mary Picetti—of the Picetti family that had come over with that pesto recipe in the 1890s. The couple married in 1922. Mary was a great cook, and her pesto, made with basil from the Armanino farm was one of her signature dishes—a tasty reminder of Mary and Guglielmo’s Ligurian roots.
As a row-cropper, Guglielmo grew vegetables and herbs to sell at the Butcher Town market to the growing Italian immigrant community that was establishing itself in San Francisco.
By the late 1920s he and his family had developed a thriving business, and the Armanino name had become synonymous with fresh produce.
Guglielmo and Mary, along with Mary’s brother, George Picetti, kept on farming through the depression and the 1940s. But it was their son, William J. “Bill” Armanino, who would take that business to a whole new level.