The Wheat Harvest

Bucking tradition, I chose Spring to go into hibernation, focusing just about all my energies on my current project, which is researching and writing about wheat as one of the Galilee’s local foods.  And while I was buried in books and traipsing around from one fascinating encounter to another, the culinary landscape made its own dramatic shift.  In the local market in Basmat Tivon, the neighboring Bedouin village, where I purchase all my produce, the winter greens have been replaced by fresh green piles of grape leaves, miniature eggplants and zucchinis for stuffing, and tender baby okra. A pile of long-stemmed malukhiya stands on the counter, the leaves of which the Bedouin women use to make a kind of deep green, mucilaginous dish to dip pita bread in.

In the fields, we’ve enjoyed the ripening chick-pea crop – picking the green pods off the stalks and opening them to reveal perfectly formed blushing-green chick peas that are delicious to munch on.  The sunflowers and corn are pushing skyward at a breathtaking rate, and while I enjoy their vital beauty, they look like interlopers on the landscape…

wheat olives 1

But as I mentioned, it is wheat that consumes my attention this Spring – watching the grain in the fields transform from green to gold – both the cultivated and the wild varieties.  Studying the history of wheat in the Galilee, I’ve learned how fatefully central it was in the lives of the people who lived here since pre-history.  Stone-age men and women collected and ate wild grasses, setting into motion the millennia-long processes that led to their domestication – right here in this part of the Eastern world.  And once wheat could be systematically cultivated in one place, humans were free to shift from wandering gatherers to living  in a settled society.  And the rest is history….

I’ve been clocking countless hours and kilometers, visiting just about every corner of the Galilee to meet people whose lives are in some way connected to wheat.  I’ve been exhilarated by the exquisite beauty of the landscape in the late afternoon light – picking up the gold in the rust colored earth out of which a sea of silvery olive branches wave in the afternoon breeze; by the camel-colored wheat fields, so ripe that they hiss in the wind like rattlesnakes. 

wheat in handThe holiday of Shavuoth, which many people here are observing today, was originally a celebration of the wheat harvest.   My own harvest from this season has been notebooks filled with notes and one very rough draft.  Now I can only wish for the energy, time and inspiration that will leaven this lump of dough into a fine creation.

Culinary Tours of the Galilee Launched!

How pleased I am that Culinary Tours of the Galilee has been officially launched, and in such an auspicious way.  Over one week, I led two groups, both through the US Embassy, thanks to my wonderful new colleague and friend Bob, who is officially in charge of the general wellbeing of the embassy staff, but whose generous spirit extends far beyond that.  

Our first tour was a Bedouin Picnic – a day emphasizing the local edible wild plants which are so abundant in this rainy winter season.  We started at a spice farm where we sipped hot fruit tea and  learned about, tasted and smelled many different local spices and spice mixtures.  After that, we drove over to a nearby field where we met our picnic hosts – the Sabtan family, who are Bedouins from the neighboring village of Kaabiye.  Nadya Sabtan has been teaching me about gathering edible wild plants for many years now and she was happy to share her knowledge with our group. 

While her mother, Bahiya, tended the fire, Nadya let us on a walk in the fields and identified hubeiza (mallow), egeda (chicory), something Nadya called “camel’s neck”, which could be eaten after peeling the fibery outer stalk and which she said was good for the knees, and a few stalks of wild asparagus.  We also encountered a large and shiny brown snake (that fortunately had as little interest in making contact with us as we had with it), and saw the tops of ancient burial caves and grape presses carved into the limestone boulders. 

Nadya’s mother cooked the finely chopped hubeiza with plenty of chopped onion and olive oil over the fire and we had that, along with cooked chicory, Mejadra, a dish of bulgar and lentils that is a Galilee Arab staple, the rice and chicken dish known as Maklouba, tabouleh salad with plenty of fresh parsley, and fresh pita with zaatar which were cooked over the fire.   Fortunately, dining al fresco builds up an appetite because there was so much delicious food!  Between the beautiful weather, the gorgeous setting, the convivial group and the gracious hosts, as well as the bounteous spread, everyone had an excellent time.

 

bed-picnic1The Bedouin Picnic was my “Tour of the Month” for February – part of my plan to feature a different tour each month emphasizing a particular seasonal food or theme.  Now let’s see what I can come up with for March…