A story about the Macedonian caviar – ajvar

12 October, 14:55
A story about the Macedonian caviar – ajvar

 - Etymology: The word “ajvar” originates from the Turkish language and means salty roe or caviar – therefore the comparison of the Macedonian ajvar with the precious caviar.
September and October are the months when winter supplies are prepared and the city smells of
ajvar. To be honest, the last few years it has been on a much smaller scale, but the tradition has
nevertheless, prevailed.

Even though that tradition of making ajvar in Macedonia is relatively new (somewhere after WWII), it
appears to be important to the Macedonians, who also use the opportunity to meet and socialize with
the neighbours and family.

EU or ajvar?

There is a solution for everything, including the law dating few years back, introduced in accordance
with the EU legislation, which banned all activities regarding making ajvar in front of the buildings, on the lawns and other public surfaces. We were afraid it might lead to the disappearance of this
tradition, but the activity was transferred to the basements, small allies and the yards of individual
houses. Not a September has passed without the smell of the most famous Macedonian specialty.
It has been the case this September, too. Truth be told, it hasn’t been made on such a scale and so
publicly as before, but the small settlements and houses still spread the well-known smell.

There are many small streets with individual houses in the settlement where I live, so the tradition still
exists there. As far as I can remember, the neighbours from across the street are making ajvar every
year, several weekends in a row. Bags of peppers are bought for every member of the family and the
work gets underway.

My parents would say that the season has started because Michurin started “steaming”. I didn’t even
know what Michurin was, but I knew that when the smoke would arise from across the street, my
parents would do the same the following week. My mother was in charge of finding flaws in the
peppers and my sister and I were the ones creating the tension. Our parents felt that we should be
present at least for the peeling of the peppers, which is the most difficult job, by the way, but also the
most social. In the end, I would reluctantly join the peeling process, but my sister was the one who
avoided it every time, and every time she would get guilty conscience at the end, when it was all over
and when the tasting phase began

Ajvar “epidemic”

I never got to like making ajvar, but once in three years, I could initiate it. I don’t know why, but every
year when we don’t make it, I always get guilty conscience while the ajvar season lasts. The
September is no exception. Our neighbour Vera opened the season last weekend. The whole family
gathered – three generations of them. They are the ones who always mark the start of the season.
And the following weekend, everybody else follows, and making ajvar spreads like an epidemic
across the entire settlement. Of course, it isn’t on the same scale before, when all of Macedonia
turned into Michurin for the ajvar making season.

One fact is that there is no ajvar better than the one you prepare it yourselves. Another one is that thetaste is unique to every house where it’s made. The beautiful taste is the result of the small secrets transferred from generation to generation, but also the skill and experience of the housewife in charge. Only the true housewife knows when the ajvar is cooked or when salt or oil needs to be added. There are several versions of the ajvar, whether some other vegetable needs to be added or not, depending on the family that makes it.

Ajvar is difficult to make, but it’s a good opportunity to spend some quality time (a lot of it) with your
family. We all love ajvar the same Another September is passing with everyone talking only about peppers and ajvar. Every bigger crossroad in the big settlements is turned into a green market where only ajvar pepper is sold. Everybody is buying peppers and making ajvar, regardless of the social category, the intellectual or educational status.

And every year it’s the same thing. Despite discussions within the family that preparing winter supplies is becoming luxury over the last few years and thins the family budget, ajvar is a must. My neighbours marked the season’s start last weekend with the first round of ajvar making and according to my experience so far, we have a lot more coming from the other neighbours next weekend. And it’s always in big numbers. Usually, there are at least two housewives joining forces along with their families, and a small part of the neighbourhood as audience. You can find out a lot from those conversations happening around the fire. Men are usually tasked with buying the peppers and maybe bake them, but their main role comes at the end when they have to cook some sausages or steaks on the little fire that hasn’t been extinguished because the following day no one would even think about meat. Bread, cheese and ajvar will be “the holy trinity”.

Those who won’t be making ajvar this year can only hope their neighbours don’t forget the good old tradition – giving away small jars of ajvar to the closest neighbours and relatives. Even though it is thought that after two thermic and one mechanical processing, there was nothing good left in the
pepper, nutritionists have calculated that a breakfast of 100 grams of ajvar and 50 grams of white
cheese gives energy for at least 10 hours of hard physical work. And the greatest fans of making ajvar always say: “Those who don’t believe should try!"

The emigrants like ajvar, too

In the end, we must mention those outside the country who have relatives here that make ajvar only
because of them. Our emigrants always make sure they come during the winter supply making season and often return with bags full of ajvar, peppers and several bottles of home-made brandy, risking punishment at the border control, but still persist in their intentions. So, while some people are smuggling narcotics, medicine and other illegal substances, our emigrants smuggle dried peppers, ajvar and brandy. Even the strict customs officers can be bribed with a jar of ajvar sometimes because not even EU can resist its smell.

Dragica Hristova


source: МИА

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