Garden Blog

A Seed Story: Jimmy Nardello Peppers

A Seed Story: Jimmy Nardello Peppers

A customer with the last name of "Nardello" ordered Jimmy Nardello peppers this past Spring, so a Sow True staffer wrote a quick note on his invoice noting the shared surname, and in return, we received the family story behind these sweet peppers.

Seeds sail from Naples to Connecticut

Up in the mountains about 100 miles east of Naples, sits the tiny town of Ruoti. This is the ancestral village of the Nardellos and their peppers.

Before coming to America, Giuseppe Nardiello and his wife Angela grew a favorite variety of sweet frying pepper there. When they sailed from the port of Naples in 1887, Angela carried a handful of the pepper seeds with them. They settled in Naugatuck, Connecticut where they raised the peppers, and eleven children. The 4th child was a son named Jimmy.

Jimmy's son, James, said that the teachers in Jimmy's grade school dropped the letter "i" from Nardiello, apparently believing that they knew better how to “properly” spell the surname. It stuck to Jimmy, and to all of his descendants.

A love of terraced gardens

James also said that his father was the only one of the Nardello children to inherit Angela's love of the garden and that Jimmy lovingly cared for his own garden throughout his life. He built them the way his mother taught him, in terraces, the way all gardens were built in the mountains of southern Italy. There he grew many varieties of peppers, but the sweet frying pepper was his favorite, and he would string up his harvest and hang them to dry in the shed, so his family could enjoy them all winter long.

Jimmy passed away in 1983. But before he did, he donated some of the heirloom pepper seeds to Seed Savers Exchange (SSE) in Decorah, Iowa. These are the seeds that have become known as Jimmy Nardello's Sweet Italian Frying Pepper.

A sweet Italian frying pepper

The best of the peppers resemble a pig's ear. James said that's how his dad picked them. They grow in full sun in neutral to acidic soil and are quite prolific as long as they are not over-watered.

They are delicious, adding a sweet edge to your favorite chili or salsa recipe, and (we think) they are the best sweet pepper for drying. To dry them, string them on a thread with a needle, careful to pierce them through the stem and not the fruit. Hang them near a sunny window or on the porch, and they'll add decoration as they dry.

Included in the Slow Food USA Ark of Taste.

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