Ajvar!

I’m here in Macedonia, living with a lovely Albanian family in the small community of Tearce. The family: an older couple, Faredin and Naxhije; a son, Qenan, 29, who still lives at home, but is getting married in May; a daughter, Semra, 27, who is married and living closeby. The parents don’t speak English, but Faredin speaks German, French, and Macedonian in addition to his native Albanian. (Earlier in his life he worked in Switzerland.) Naxhije only speaks Albanian. Qenan and Semra both speak English, but I don’t see as much of them. Consequently, French has been a real bonus, and I’m surprised by how much I remember.

IMG_2769 (1) IMG_2772

IMG_2771Ajvar (pronounced like eye-var) is a traditional red pepper spread that is made every fall here in most households. Many Peace Corps Volunteers in Macedonia have written about making Ajvar, but this is my take on it.

The tools of the trade for this two-day event are these: a corer, a huge vat, bowls of water, many big platters and containers for holding the peppers, tongs for turning the peppers on the stove, a grinder, a stove, and lots of wood.

IMG_2809IMG_2801

It started on Friday evening when I saw the next door neighbors roasting peppers on their stove outside. In fact, the whole neighborhood smelled like wood fires and roasting peppers. Then I saw four big bags of red peppers on our door step. Not all were slated to become Ajvar, but most were. Saturday morning dawned the clearest day here since we arrived. It was the kind of day I always associate with my birthday – warm, sunny, beautiful!

Saturday morning, Naxhije rousted me from my bed. She had already started coring the peppers. There is only one corer, so I didn’t participate in that part. She piled up the cored peppers on every available platter, to be taken to the stove to roast. I sat with Qenan as he oversaw the roasting. This is a very hot process, as he was constantly feeding the fire and turning the peppers. We had a lovely visit, as the sun grew surprisingly hot. (I didn’t bring a sunhat, so I protected my head with a scarf.)

IMG_2803IMG_2807IMG_2805IMG_2814IMG_2816

Eventually, there were lots of roasted peppers in a bucket, and Naxhije and I started peeling them with the help of a bowl of water to help get them clean. This is the part that takes the most time. In fact, we went through the afternoon and into the evening. We didn’t finish until after dark. As it got dark, the cold drew us closer to the fire.

IMG_2818IMG_2821

Then the peppers were ground. Faredin was very inventive. He took the handle off the grinder, and attached his drill to turn the mechanism, thus eliminating hours of arm motion. Inside of 20 minutes, the peppers were ground into a large bucket, where they rested until morning.

IMG_2822IMG_2823

On the second day, the ground peppers were put into a vat on the stove, which had had a couple of inches of sand spread on the surface to prevent the peppers from scorching. This part of the process takes five hours, and the peppers must be stirred constantly.

IMG_2827IMG_2830

Faredin then stepped in and put the ajvar into used clean jars, screwing the lids on tightly.

IMG_2831IMG_2832

He turned all the jars upside down and wrapped the whole lot in a blanket. When I asked why he did that, he said he wanted the ajvar to cool very slowly.

IMG_2833

Some people add other vegetables, like tomatoes, carrots, and/or eggplant, to the peppers to vary the flavors. Some make it spicy. Naxhije used only red peppers. After everything was finished, we sat down to a meal nearby, and the menu, of course, included ajvar. It was delicious!

Those of you who know me can understand what a marvelous time I must have had. Hmmm . . . I can envision holding a 2-day event in America upon my return . . .

Advertisements

11 thoughts on “Ajvar!

  1. How fun! Such positive connecting! Thank you for sharing. I look forward to each of you creative posts. i foresee a positive future!

  2. So nice to read met a friend of yours at the market of choice this week she notice that I’m buying Paleo we started talking and found out that we have a friend in in this small world. You

  3. That is an awesome process! How long does the ajvar keep? Does it self-seal in the jars, or does it just start to ferment? It looks really good, I’d like to try it at home. Maybe I’ll wait ’till you get back.
    Thanks to Faredin and Naxhije!

  4. Oh Kathers, what fun! This is so much more the setting I would have chosen for you! And the story of peppers, as I am processing tomatoes, cukes, peppers, jams of all sorts, and now apples, was so related to my own experiences! I think I would love Macedonia! And we can certainly have a pepper roast here in MInnesnowta, fi we plan carefully to miss the snow and ice! 🙂

  5. I finally remembered I tucked this in a KK folder to read later, and have now read… so glad you’re remembering your French! And this pepper stuff looks fabulous. I made some of what Laurie Colwin called “red pepper sludge”, which is good, but I’ll bet ajvar is better.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s