September and October are ajvar(pronounced ay-var)-making season. All across Macedonia, from inner-city Skopje balconies to mountain village yards, people break out the ajvar stove, purchase hundred-kilo sacks of red pepper, and get to roasting.
Ajvar is basically just red peppers (and often eggplant) cooked down into a paste, to be stored and eating with bread and white cheese during the winter. It's also very labor intensive, and is therefore usually cause to get dozens of people together to socialize, drink rakija, and keep the peppers turning.
We paid about $10 for 25 kilograms of red peppers. Try that in the US. After cleaning them, we arranged them on the traditional round ajvar stove.
The peppers roast until they are mostly black . This is just the thing, transparent skin that burns; the flesh of the pepper is only slightly cooked. The blackened peppers are removed, and placed in a closed jar. They are still steaming hot, and the steam further loosens the skin of the pepper.
I had to keep the peppers turning. I managed to develop a system called "The American Technique", which will probably increase ajvar production tenfold across Macedonia. Or something like that.
After steaming in the closed pot, the blackened peppers are rinsed. The remaining skin is removed, as well as the seeds and the stem.
Continued in Part Two. . . .