It’s amazing to think that only a couple of weeks ago we were at the annual ‘Fiera del Peperone’ or Pepper Festival in Carmagnola, a well-known fixture on the Piemonte early autumn calendar. We were at the tail end of a long, blistering hot summer and still having to search for coolness, shade and chilled drinks in the crowded streets.

But now we’ve just left Mabon, the Autumn Equinox has passed and it’s now feeling altogether much cooler. So where, you might ask, is this town of Mabon? Well, it’s not an Italian town, or an Italian anything actually, but is in fact a pagan thanksgiving festival.

It’s the second of three harvest festivals that take place in the Celtic calendar and being the middle one is not so much a time of feasting and celebrating (although that too obviously!), but more a time for reflection and gratitude and for cleansing and preparing for the winter ahead. It’s also, according to Celtic folklore, a great opportunity to let go of the baggage of the past year and set some new goals for the future.

Well nature’s future was certainly on display everywhere at the Pepper Fair – groaning market stalls covered with vibrantly coloured peppers heralded the seasonal transformation from summer green (well, more burnt brown than green this year!) to the glorious reds, oranges and golds of autumn.

The pepper cycle reflects the same process, an ‘unripe’ green pepper changes first to yellow and finally matures into a ‘sweet’ red – rather like traffic lights in reverse!

I remember reading snippets of a Rudolf Steiner talk on how certain colours in particular have what he called a ‘lustre’ or ‘luminosity’…an ‘inner glow’.

And as I wandered amongst the vivid shades of red, yellow, green, orange and purple – luminous in the bright sunlight – you could almost see and feel a shimmering aura around and within each pepper and understand how their freshness and radiance could gift us an inner glow.

Indeed health-wise peppers do bring us valuable nutrients that can help strengthen our immune system for the coming winter and particularly the red ones which have impressive amounts of Vitamin C (three times that of an orange). They’re also packed with Vitamin A and are excellent for lowering cholesterol.

But all peppers – including chillies – are also rich in antioxidants and help cleanse and detox our blood…and therefore our body. Cleansing our blood is like spring-cleaning our inner house (only it’s an autumn-clean) helping us sparkle and glow with health from inside out.

In the spirit of thanksgiving, we apparently need to thank Christopher Columbus for this sunny plant and its fruit. I say fruit because botanically speaking it’s classified as one, but from a culinary point of view we use and eat peppers as a vegetable. Bell peppers (capsicum annuum) are native to Mexico and South America and reportedly it was Christopher Columbus and the Spanish explorers who then introduced the seeds to Spain, from where it spread throughout Europe and Asia.

And now here we are celebrating and giving thanks for their existence in a small town in Northern Italy about 500 years later!

Just to end on a throwaway piece of triviality….I noticed a quirky element to this fair. There were almost more stalls selling vacuum cleaners and floor polishers than peppers – around every bend and street corner there was yet another tented outlet. Interesting….well, not very….but certainly a curiosity. I guess this was just the outward sign of there being a general aura of cleaning and cleansing in the air!

RECIPE: RED PEPPER SALSA a nod to the peppers’ native Mexican & South American roots

Red bell peppers (the sweeter of the peppers) can help strengthen your immune system as they are a wonderful source of vitamin C, containing almost three times the Vitamin C of an orange. Heat can destroy this essential nutrient so eating them raw is ideal. This salsa perks up any food – I’ve eaten it with fish, chicken, cheese, other vegetables and just as a dip with aperitivi. I’ve now finished my last batch so I have to go and make some more – it’s addictive!

Makes 1 cup/200ml

1 large red pepper, roughly chopped
1 spring onion, chopped
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
1 small bunch fresh parsley
1 small bunch fresh coriander
1 tsp sriracha or hot pepper sauce or ½ fresh chilli pepper, chopped finely
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
4-5 tablespoons cold-pressed olive oil
½ teaspoon ground black pepper

Combine all the ingredients in a small food processor and blend until still slightly chunky – I didn’t want a creamy paste, preferring some texture, but of course you could make the salsa smooth if you wished!

This will keep in the fridge for up to a week or you can freeze it for up to 4 months, either in a freezer container or a Ziploc bag. Freezing it flat in a Ziploc bag helps the salsa to freeze and thaw faster which will help keep its fresh flavour, whereas freezing in a container will stop it getting mushy. To thaw, remove and put in the fridge for a few hours – you might need to drain it a bit if there’s too much liquid, but otherwise it should have kept its vibrant taste.

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