A Pepper with a Story

Heritage, tradition, and the unbeatable taste of a pepper make the Ausilio Thin Skin Italian pepper worth growing, saving, and sharing. The pepper was recently donated to Seed Savers Exchange’s Preservation Collection by Chad Ogle-Riccelli in the spirit of sharing an important part of his family’s history.

His great grandparents, Giovanni “John” Ausilio and Rachel P. Scarcello immigrated from Italy in the early 1900s. They both settled in Des Moines, Iowa, where they met and married. Their daughter, Theresa Ausilio Riccelli, now 91, remembers the pepper growing in their family garden as a child. Today, Chad lives in Des Moines with his wife, Michele and their three children, and is proud to grow the same pepper his great grandparents cultivated.

This pepper is at the center of the family’s culinary traditions and is prepared in a variety of ways, including fried (see recipe below). Chad recently enjoyed teaching his own children how to make Sardas, rolls flavored with dried peppers and sardines, which his Grandpa Riccelli taught him how to make. 

Grandma Ausilio Riccelli says the secret to delicious peppers comes down to appreciation, which she shows by greeting her plants every morning and telling them good night every evening.

When asked why the family chose to preserve this pepper and save seeds from year to year, Chad says, “As Grandma (Theresa Ausilio Riccelli) would tell you, they are her family seeds. Something that special, you love and pass on for generations to come… These peppers are part of our heritage.”

Chad and Michele became Seed Savers Exchange members in 2015 after they donated the Ausilio Thin Skin Italian pepper to Seed Savers

On a visit to Heritage Farm last summer, the Ogle-Riccelli family was thrilled to see its family pepper being grown onsite. (After returning home, Chad and the children even made sauce from the peppers they collected from the “Ausilio” field while in Decorah.) “We can’t get over the beauty of Heritage Farm,” said Chad. “This is the most beautiful place in all of Iowa.” The beauty of the Seed Savers Exchange campus—and the important work being done here—inspired the couple to make a Lifetime Membership gift in the name of their oldest daughter, Autumn, in support of the Seeds for Tomorrow campaign for a new seed vault last fall.

Seed Savers Exchange is proud to offer the Ausilio pepper for the first time in the 2017 seed catalog and is honored to be part of keeping the traditions and legacy of this storied pepper alive and celebrated. 

Fried Thin Skin Ausilio Peppers

These fried peppers taste great on bread or in a sandwich and go well with onions, mushrooms, and diced potatoes.

4-6 Ausilio Thin Skin Italian peppers, deseeded, cut into strips

1/2  cup olive oil

1-2 garlic cloves, minced

Fresh basil to taste

1 Tbsp. grated parmesan cheese

Salt and pepper to taste

Heat olive oil in a frying pan on medium high heat. Add garlic and cook for a minute or two. Then add the sliced peppers and fry until softened to choice. Add basil in the final minute or two of frying. Salt and pepper to taste. Top each serving with grated parmesan cheese.