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The Crunchy Cookie That Could: Gilda Doganiero from Gilda’s Biscotti

Gilda Doganiero roasting hazelnuts at her Gilda’s Biscotti bakery in Salem, N.J..

As a Culinary Institute of America alum and pastry chef at the Four Seasons Hotel, Gilda Doganiero had no trouble recognizing the plight of American biscotti. All over Philadelphia, Doganiero found that even the most delicious gourmet coffees were being sold alongside an adulterated, Americanized version of the biscotti that she knew and loved. American bakeries were trying to turn this abused little biscuit into a long butter cookie—a far-stretch from its traditional Italian origins.

“They [were] just the complete opposite of what they’re supposed to be,” said Doganiero. “Real, traditional biscotti is crispy. It’s baked more than once [because] it’s supposed to be hard for dipping in coffee and tea—the Italians dip it in wine.”

Unable to ignore biscotti’s cries for help any longer, Doganiero left her job at the Four Seasons in 1996 to form Gilda’s Biscotti, a company dedicated to providing Philadelphia-area coffee shops with the real thing.

Gracing the label of many flavors of Gilda’s Biscotti is a photo of none other than Doganiero’s paternal grandmother (also named Gilda) freshly arrived in America from Italy.

In her Salem bakery—which happens to be about 450 feet from the Salem City Community Garden—Doganiero prepares her biscotti in the traditional Italian style: logs of dough are placed in the oven until almost finished baking and then cut into the classic half-oval shape. Finally, the biscuits are baked again to give them the dry crunch of an authentic biscotti. But for Doganiero, staying true to the recipe starts with ingredients.

“I try to keep the flavors that we make very traditional,” she said. Obviously, this means shying away from all those “pumpkin swirl spice” concoctions that fly off the shelves this time of year, but less obvious are the parameters for an acceptable flavor.

“Something with a dried fruit or a citrus peel or nuts that would come from that area of the Mediterranean—almonds, pistachios, hazelnuts—[is acceptable],” Doganiero explained. She explains that the traditional flavor that most people associate with biscotti is an almond anise variety that was first made in Prato, Italy.

Gilda’s Biscotti can be found in coffee shops throughout Philadelphia and South Jersey (among other places) and are great for crunching, dipping, and trying every flavor!

The Salem City Community Garden: Where Rural Meets Urban

This sign alerts passerby that, yes, someone put these vegetables here on purpose.

In April, the corner of Hires Avenue and New Market Street was just a vacant demolition site sitting sad and barren in front of the City Clerk Office in Salem City. Today, a border of wooden shipping palettes—stacked, hammered, and painted into 4 foot high raised beds of soil—surround a tidy oasis of greenery called the Salem City Community Garden.

Salem residents Krystal Hall and Britney Lillya first conceived of the garden after signing up to volunteer for similar projects at the First Annual Philly Farm and Food Fest in April. “Britney and I found ourselves signing up for other community gardens that weren’t in our community,” Hall says. “We thought, ‘Why not do it in our town?’”

With the support of City Council, Lillya’s connections at the Salem County Sunbeam, where she works as a photographer, and a notice posted on Facebook, initial support for the project far exceeded the pair’s expectations. “When we did our build, there were probably 30 people out here,” Hall says. “ I was really surprised that day how many people came out to help.”

Now, the gardeners harvest long hots, roma and regular tomatoes, eggplant, okra, and bell peppers that they have yet to find homes for. Charitable purposes like Meals on Wheels and educational programs have been considered, but the group is still pondering, wanting to ensure that the garden’s effects reach as far into the community as possible.

Britney Lillya and Krystal Hall working on some Mexican Sunflowers, which are, at the very least, visually delicious.

I can appreciate the extent to which the Salem Garden blurs the rural and the urban: the garden is a piece of the agrarian in the middle of “Salem City,” which is itself a semi-urban island in a sea of farmland. Surprisingly, as fellow founding gardener Ken Blades explained, the reality of Salem is not one of a town in which farmland and city always blend graciously. Rather, a cultural divide exists between some of Salem’s city-dwelling and farm-dwelling residents that gives some incentive to critique the community garden project.

“People [from the country] were asking us when we started this, ‘Why would you want to do that?’” Blades says. “There’s a lot of negativity out there.”

Of course, every well-meaning project always has its senseless detractors, but what about residents who feel a little too welcome to the garden’s produce?

“Sometimes people would come with shopping bags and just take whatever they wanted,” Hall says. “We’d prefer it if they did that differently, but…”

Blades completes Hall’s thought for both of them. “I’m over it,” he says.

Over the winter, the group hopes to secure access to a public greenhouse, but its plans don’t stop there. “We’re not big enough to be a nonprofit yet, but it might be a future goal,” Hall explains. “We’ve just got to figure out what we’re doing with the food first.”

A last resort, of course, is to donate it to the causes of this vegetably destitute blogger, who is now one bag full of eggplants, tomatoes, and peppers less hungry.