by Megan French of Bend, OR
Before he was a farmer, before he knew he wanted to be a farmer, David came upon it by chance one day on a friend’s farm.
“It was one of the very first things I ever harvested on a farm. At that point, I thought it was the coolest thing. It was totally different than anything I had ever seen at the grocery store.”
Since 2012, from having a small CSA garden in his backyard to managing farms to now owning and farming Boundless Farmstead, David Kellner-Rode has been growing the Jimmy Nardello pepper. “I can’t see not ever growing it.”
This pepper came to me through David and is easily one of our favorite varieties on the farm. Before I was a local food eater and farmer, many vegetables were unappealing; celery was bitter, cucumbers were spongy, and peppers were leathery and tart. My dislike of peppers quickly changed into an obsession after growing Jimmy Nardellos.
Ask any farmer about their favorite vegetable and one is likely to receive four or five types and even more varieties. Ask David his favorite vegetables and he will quickly respond, “pepper” and soon after correct with, “Jimmy Nardellos.”
The Jimmy Nardello pepper demands attention from all of the senses. It hangs long and lean from each stem, mottled in scarlet, auburn, burgundy, and burnt sienna. It twists and curls, grabbing on as one brushes by, forcing a head turn and a moment of recognition.
After a glance, a pluck, a twirl through curious fingers, and a check for quality, the pepper is bitten. A soft crunch, a burst of sweetness, and a crisp rich fruity flavor lingers.
At the farm, we eat this pepper raw all day, munching away as we weed or stake or wash produce. But in the evening, it goes into the frying pan, onto the grill, or under the broiler; the sweetness amplified and complemented by savory oils, residual smoke, and flaky sea salt.
The most enjoyable preparation of Jimmys I have ever been fortunate enough to taste was also the simplest. Sliced peppers are thrown into a cast iron skillet with olive oil, sea salt, thyme, and crushed garlic. Once soft, a dollop of goat cheese is spooned in the middle, and the pan rests under the broiler for a few minutes. The whole pan is set on the table and scooped up by crusty baguette slices.
This pepper is not only wonderful to eat, but it is equally wonderful to grow. This italian frying pepper grows six to ten inches long on a plant that is about two feet tall. Jimmys are also prolific and quick maturing, which is crucial in our short High Desert growing season.
We grow peppers exclusively in a greenhouse due to our radical swings in diurnal temperature and our chance at a frost any day of the year. They performed well under extreme summer heat and pressed on during some cold fall nights. In 2018, we experienced a frost on July 3rd and August 25th. We kept the peppers in the greenhouse, blanketed in row cover, and enjoyed these beauties from mid July until early November.
Jimmy Nardello holds a place within the Slow Food’s Ark of Taste catalog as an endangered heritage food. “The Ark of Taste is a living catalog of delicious and distinctive foods facing extinction…[it] is a tool for farmers, ranchers, fishers, chefs, grocers, educators, and consumers to seek out and celebrate our country’s diverse, biological, cultural, and culinary heritage” (Slow Food USA).
Boundless Farmstead is a 20 acre farm with five acres of diverse vegetables and 12 acres of pasture in the High Desert region of Central Oregon. Our mission is to grow and cultivate healthy plants, animals, and community, and to form creative and sustainable practices by observing, listening, and studying. We are dedicated stewards of the land who love to work hard, assimilate back into the natural cycles and rhythms of the natural world, and eat well. By cultivating and eating Jimmy Nardellos, we hope to continue its viability, heritage, and legacy for decades.
Our (SFJ) Discovery of this Pepper?
Shannon came upon them at the Bend Farmer’s Market this past summer and after buying a handful, bought them by the dozen the rest of the summer. They’re so sweetly wonderful, she brought one in for me to try and I promptly asked her to look up where I could buy seed. LRM
History of Jimmy Nardello Italian Peppers
by Darcy Larum of Janesville, WI
Originally printed at Gardening Know How, May 25, 2017
The U.S. is known as the melting pot. For centuries immigrants from all over the world have come and made the United States their home. With them they’ve brought their religious beliefs, cultural traditions, and favorite recipes and food. The story of the Jimmy Nardello pepper began with Italian immigrants, Giuseppe and Angella Nardello, sticking a few favorite pepper seeds in their pocket before coming to the United States.
History of Jimmy Nardello Italian Peppers
In 1887, the Nardello family immigrated to Connecticut seeking a better life than they had in their remote, mountainous village in southern Italy. Along with them, they brought the seeds of some of their favorite vegetables including Capiscum annum, the variety of sweet pepper that is now known as the Jimmy Nardello Italian pepper.
Life in Connecticut was good for the Nardello family and soon they had 11 children. Naturally, raising 11 children doesn’t leave time for much else. Fortunately, the Nardello’s fourth child, Jimmy, had inherited his mother’s love of gardening, so he built terrace gardens and grew many of his mother’s favorite heirloom pepper plants.
From just the few seeds his mother had brought over from Italy, Jimmy kept the family well fed with wholesome, hearty vegetables for decades. Jimmy’s favorite of all the peppers he grew was a sweet Italian frying pepper. Before he passed away in 1983, Jimmy donated seeds of his favorite pepper to the Seed Savers Exchange. Since then, it has been known as the Jimmy Nardello pepper.
Growing and Using Heirloom Pepper Plants
Nearly 130 years after Jimmy’s mother brought her heirloom pepper plant seeds to the U.S., Jimmy Nardello Italian peppers have become all the rage with chefs and gardeners. Traditionally, these peppers were strung from a string and dried. The string was run through the stem of the pepper, with a needle. Dried peppers were then sliced or chopped and sautéed or fried for use in traditional Italian recipes. Today, Jimmy Nardello peppers are dried, frozen, pickled, canned or used fresh in any recipe that calls for a sweet, crisp pepper.
Jimmy Nardello pepper plants require 80-90 days to mature. In northern climates with shorter summers, you may need to start the seeds indoors 8-10 weeks before the last frost date.
Plants need full sun and grow approximately 2 feet tall and wide. The fruit is 6-10 inches long and bright red at maturity. Jimmy Nardello peppers contain vitamin A, vitamin C and are low in calories.