The Great Depression was a tough time for many across the United States. It hit especially hard in parts of the country where manufacturing drove the economy. That was the case here in Youngstown and the surrounding areas. Communities had to come together to make it through these hard times. Families pitched in however they could to put food on the table.
It was during these times that Italians in the Valley relied on their gardens to eat. The economic downturn meant that people did not always have the money to purchase groceries, so gardens were their lifeblood. Tomatoes and peppers were the easiest vegetables to grow in Northeast Ohio’s climate and therefore were easily accessible for all. Flour was distributed to residents through social programs like welfare. The flour was then used by families to bake bread and pizza crust.
Youngstown’s “Little Italy” was the Brier Hill neighborhood, as it was the first Italian settlement in the city. It was a true blue-collar neighborhood, attracting immigrants looking for work in Brier Hill’s coal mines. In the early 1930s, community ovens were common in Brier Hill. These ovens were built by bricklayers and stonemasons using discarded brick from the mills. Each street in the neighborhood had a scheduled day and time to use the oven. During their allotted time, the women would bake enough bread to last for the week. They then used the whatever flour was left over to make pizza crust. Pair the pizza crust with the veggies from the garden, and Brier Hill Pizza is born. Top it off with a sprinkle of Romano cheese and enjoy! Romano was used due to its low cost in comparison to the traditional pizza cheese, mozzarella.
Ever since the depression era, Youngstown and surrounding towns pride themselves on Brier Hill Pizza. Most Italians would agree that there’s nothing better than a good slice of Brier Hill. It is a special dish in this part of the country and can be found at pizza shops, churches and grocery stores alike. Now you have to be in the mood for a slice, so go get what you need and make yourself a Brier Hill Pizza!