In Macedonia, making ajvar is not only a tradition, it’s part of the fabric of life.
Families gather in villages, towns and cities for days of roasting, plunging, peeling, cooking, and stirring deep red peppers to creamy perfection. The aroma of roasting peppers permeates the autumn air. Kilos* of peppers are bought in Macedonian fresh markets, pazzars, for the equivalent of American pennies.
*One kilo equals 2.2+ pounds.
Their pungent crimson, thick, flesh dominates the cooking scene at this time of year. It seems every family has a special recipe for creating this rich spread, which is scooped into sterilized jars, set on shelves and shared with family and guests throughout the winter.
Fresh peppers are stuffed with cheese or meat and baked to perfection. Peppers of all shapes, colors, and intensity – burn-your-mouth-hot to sweet and mild – are served at almost every meal swimming in oil. The remaining peppers adorn walls and balconies, and are dried so large chunks of their leathery, slightly crisp, dusty-flavored goodness can be added to a delicious array of meats and bean dishes to warm up meals during the colder months.
This year my American guest, Annie, and I had the honor of being on-hand for part of my friend Dragica’s ajvar-making odyssey. Dragica’s spirit and love of life flavors everything she does, her tasty ajvar being no exception.
We arrived after the ruby red capsicum had been roasted and peeled – a full day’s work. Our day of ajvar making (watching) began when the wood was burning and the peppers were slid from a huge pail into an even wider-mouth enamel pot for the long and arduous cooking and stirring process. Ajvar is always made outdoors, and city neighbors set-up shop in garages and backyards.
This year, after enjoying Turkish coffee and rakija in the mid-morning shade and chatting in broken English and Macedonian with her friendly and interesting neighbors, we moved to the steamy garage to talk with Dragica’s husband and college-aged sons, Marjan and Dan, who were home for ajvar making.
We decided the process might benefit from some literary inspiration – Dragica loves writing poetry, and within minutes we had created the following masterpieces. (Please remember these words were created with love, just like ajvar, and followed some homemade rakija sipping, which is basically moonshine-light, and is also part of the Macedonia way of life. I must admit not everyone was sipping, but those of us who did felt even warmer and cozier.)
And, now without further ado . . .
The Ajvar Trilogy
Created with love and inspired by moments shared by Dragica, Marjan, Dan, Annie and me.
The Flavor of Ajvar
Red as the burning coals Hot as a chick Ladle mixing food, family and friends Circle of life Tastes so fine, makes me want to drink a bottle of wine. With bread and cheese, we will eat with ease Rex sits watching like TV.
Notes: Rex is their huge German Shepard, who sat quietly by. Can you guess which lines her sons added?
Lace in the window
Smiling faces looking down Cooling breeze Smell of smoke and peppers overtakes the day. Mother and sons, paddling together. More oil, much better.
Many friendly people sit on ajvar beach. Who asks what is that? Foreign fires burning, Roasting tradition.The End Kinda, sort-of . . .
As always, wish you were here . . . comments encouraged; literary critiques, no so much . . . :-)
We ended our ajvar visit by teaching Annie basic oro steps – Macedonia’s traditional and still favorite dance, and she reciprocated by sharing some salsa moves. I love international exchange!
I hope you find a way to enjoy some traditional fall activities over the next few weeks. Sharing time with family and friends as our earthly axis tilts away from the sun, is a wonderful way to warm-up your life.