From The Desk Of Finn’s Motel: A Walk In The Garden Part 4 (Ajvarski Sweet Peppers)

Finn’s Motel mastermind/auteur Joe Thebeau gifted us in late 2006 with the amazing, out-of-nowhere Escape Velocity debut, a concept album about leaving behind the drudgery of cubicle life and suburban malaise for some greater, unknown existence. Even with the help (cough) of a January 2007 MAGNET profile, it took Thebeau nearly 11 years to finally follow it up with the outstanding new Jupiter Rex (Victory Over Gravity). Thebeau will be guest editing magnetmagazine.com all week. Read our new Finn’s Motel feature.

Thebeau: Last year I took a shot at growing hot peppers. I had three Super Chili Pepper plants that did very well despite my having forgotten about them. I lost track of their place in the garden when some weeds moved in and I couldn’t keep up. When I finally did get around to weeding that area, I discovered plants full of tiny scorching hot peppers were hidden underneath. Great news, right? Except that’s when I had to admit that maybe I don’t like hot peppers as much as I had imagined that spring when I bought the plants. I picked them by the handfuls and shoved them into a veggie drawer in the fridge, thinking I’d do something with them eventually, but I never did. I even considered infusing some olive oil with the super chilies but never quite worked up the energy.

This year, when I was digging through the seed catalog I thumbed past the hot peppers and skipped over to the sweet peppers looking for something special. What I didn’t want was the regular old red, green and yellow peppers that are easy to find at the grocery store and taste just fine—no reason to spend the garden space on those. I wanted something different. What I discovered was a lesson in international foods.

The Ajvarski Sweet Pepper is from eastern Macedonia, where, according to Baker Creek, “These thick-fleshed traditional peppers are roasted on flat metal stoves, peeled, then ground into a traditional relish called ajvar, which is eaten spread on bread, often with sirenje, a local cheese similar to feta.” As soon as I read that, I knew my wife, Gina would be all over it. Anything involving a cheese even remotely similar to feta would be right up her alley. Usually she blocks me out when I read the seed descriptions, but this time her eyes lit up.

And, the story doesn’t stop there. Also from Baker Creek:
“Nearly every rural household puts up a supply of ajvar for winter eating. In autumn, Macedonians flock to the markets in fertile valleys in the East to buy bushels of the best aromatic roasting peppers from the local villages there, which is where the original seed came from, a gift from the students in the villages of Kalugeritsa and Zleovo.”

With all that cultural history, I was sold. We got off to a good start with the seedlings sprouting in planters in the south window, but less than half of them survived the transplant. I don’t know if I was too rough with them or if there’s something about the garden dirt they didn’t like as much as the potting soil. I do have four plants that survived and are looking pretty good. I’m not sure I’ll have enough peppers to make ajvar, but I’m going to try.

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