Each year near the end of summer, when the tomatoes are ripe and the peppers are chili red, we take a few days off from the city and head to our village Anjar to prepare Mouneh (preserves).
Preparing preserves is so much fun for us. The family gathers and helps around. Neighbors bring coffee. Then at night, when we are cooking the hot tomato paste on the fireplace that my late father had made, we steal a shovel of burning charcoal from the fire and enjoy a barbecue dinner or grill some corn on the cob that my Uncle brings from his garden when he returns home from work.
Our grandparents used to prepare many different types of preserves, but as refrigerators became available in each house, and supermarkets sprouted in each corner of town, many preserves are now store- bought. Also since most produce are grown in greenhouses, some people forgot all about preserves. However, we still prepare the preserves we use and love most: tomato concasse, tomato paste, hot tomato paste, hot pepper paste, red pepper flakes, roasted red pepper preserve, and pizza sauce. One other special preserve we prepare mid-spring is cooked yogurt (well, that's another story).
It is a great family ritual that we hope to keep alive not simply to preserve the tradition, and not only to savor the family gathering and fun nights, but also since:
- using preserves saves time during cooking, and
- in-season produce is more delicious and nutritious than those grown in unnatural conditions, such as a greenhouses
- and because, as mom says:
“at least we know what we’re putting in our jars!”