Thursday, October 11, 2012

Ajvar Season in Macedonia: October 11, 2012

Today is a holiday; it is "People's Uprising Against Fascism Day."  This holiday caught us off guard with no plan on how to spend this day off.  After looking through our guidebook, we decided to take a taxi to Šuto Orizari.  Šuto Orizari or "Šuto" most people know it, is a Roma community.  There is a very large clothing market there that sells items at very low prices, but it is also a neighborhood. 

We walked along the main street passing the market by.  Eventually, we turned into the neighborhood.  The neighborhood is sprinkled with large homes that have been built by those families who have members working abroad.  These houses project wealth and success and returned remittances.  Between these mansion-like homes are much smaller, modest homes.  As we walked, we let our noses set the direction. The delicious smell of roasting peppers on this cool day perfumed the air.    

Autumn is the season of ajvar in Macedonia.  Ajvar is eaten all year long and it is its own food group in Macedonia.  It is served with meats and with white feta-like cheese.  It is used as a spread on thick slices of bread. 

At our first stop, we found peppers cooking on a metal platform over a wood fire.  The lady of the house vigilantly turned the peppers.  Once a batch of peppers are evenly grilled and the skins blistered, they are scooped into a plastic bag to sweat the skin of the peppers.  Once sweated, a group of family members begins the tedious work of separating the skin from the pepper.



After we watched for a while, this family directed us down and across the street to another ajvar-making group.  This was a larger group of friends and family peeling and seeding peppers.  In their recipe, they also add peeled tomatoes.  Some recipes include eggplant, as well. 



We did not stay long enough to observe the rest of the process. Ajvar is usually a two-day process.   Once the peppers are peeled, they are minced.  Because of the intensive hand work involved, this step is often mechanized with the use of a grinder to reduce the peppers to a mince.  A large, cauldron-like pot is placed over a wood fire and once oil covering the bottom of the pot is hot, the peppers and other ingredients are added.  As the peppers cook, the pot is stirred continually to keep the contents from burning.  Once cooked, ajvar is preserved in jars to be consumed all winter long, and there should be enough to last until the next ajvar season.

Here is an ingredient list from Macedonian Traditional Cookbook:

60 kilos red peppers (ajvar peppers)
10 kilos of eggplants
3.5 liters of oil
100 grams of sugar
salt to taste

Makes about 23 jars of ajvar

We enjoyed ourselves and I hope the Romas we met enjoyed meeting two Americans roaming their neighborhood and interested in how they live.  We caught a bus back to Skopje's center.

That was how we spent our "Uprising against Fascism" holiday.  The commemoration is for October 11, 1941; the day "the people of Macedonia began to organize and mount an armed insurrection against their Bulgarian and Italian occupiers with an attack on the local Axis-power headquarters in the city of Prilep...., Partisans staged a simultaneous uprising against the fascists in the city of Kumanovo. The October 11 rebellion launched the war for liberation from fascist occupation, which coincided with the rise of the communist movement in Macedonia."

Macedonian TV (MTB) station has a short YouTube MTB video giving the Macedonian version of the events of October 11, 1941.  The comments for this video have been disabled.  Why?  I'm guessing that not everyone agrees with this version of events.

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