On the last day of Passover, which this year coincided with Easter Monday, I got the call. Friends of my friend Balkees – farmers in the village of Mashhad, just outside Nazareth – were making farike and we were invited to join.

Farike – for the unfamiliar – is wheat, harvested when the kernels are fully developed but still green, roasted over a fire, threshed, dried and ground, with the end result looking like a green-ish bulgar. In Biblical times, roasted grain was one of the agricultural products sanctioned for sacrifice at the Temple. Today it is a beloved staple of Galilee Arab cuisine.

Because agriculture in the Arab sector in Israel is on a steep decline, much of the farike that is sold in stores is imported from Turkey. But if you are fortunate enough to know a local farmer who happens to still undertake the extreme toil of raising wheat and producing farike, then you can buy it from him and enjoy the true “local food”. I was even more fortunate, and was invited to come and take part in the process.

In the rich agricultural plateau between Nazareth, we faced a wheatfield that was green on one part and golden on the other – the latter being a different variety and intended for producing flour.

yellow field next to green

 It would be harvested with a combine, while the relatively small field for farike had to be harvested by hand…

The two sons of the farmer, Abu Salach – strong young men in their early twenties – handed us short, wooden-handled sickles, and showed us how to wrap the curve of the blade around a bunch of wheat stalks, then holding just below the ear, to pull sharply.

Within an hour we filled several large cloth bags with the green ears of wheat – yet we covered just a fraction of the entire field.

At the nearby threshing floor, the ears of wheat picked on the preceding days were drying on tarps in the sun. In order for the exterior parts of the wheat to burn properly, the ears have to be dried for two days. The brothers spread a thick layer of wheat over a metal frame and lit the pile, tossing it with a pitchfork to spread the flames. When they were all charred, they went to another tarp for an additional drying before threshing in a machine that would be attached to the family tractor.  The cleaned grains would be dried again, this time in the shade so as not to fade their green color, before being stored in sacks.

This April has been unseasonably cool, and this morning there was even a short rainfall. All I could think of was all that wheat out on the tarps, getting wet – the product of so much difficult labor perhaps destroyed. With so much at stake, one can understand how compelling was the promise from Deuteronomy: ‘If, then, you obey the commandments that I enjoin upon you this day, loving the Lord your God and serving Him with all your heart and soul, I will grant the rain for your land in season, the early rain and the late. You shall gather in your new grain and wine and oil. (Deuteronomy 11:13-14).’

Through the Grainfields

Fully ripe wheat - so dry it will break your teeth!

I recently received a question from a reader of my blog which was particularly timely. He referred to a passage from the Book of Matthew that goes something like:

At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry and began to pick some heads of grain and eat them. Matthew 12:1

The questioner wanted to know if I could tell him what kind of grain this could have been and during which months this might have occurred. After spending so much time investigating the history of grains and particularly wheat here in the Galilee, I was so pleased to be able to give him a coherent answer.

We are now approaching Passover and Easter – a time when the grain fields are still ripening, and when this particular state of ripening of barley and wheat, during the time of Matthew, determined when Passover would be celebrated. Wheat is usually harvested around the beginning of June – historically corresponding with the holiday of Shavuoth – Feast of the Pentacost. But sometime in April, when the heads of the wheat are still green  and haven’t turned golden and dry yet, the wheat kernels become plump and soft, full of protein and sugar, and this is the only time that they can be eaten raw. After that, when the kernels are fully ripe and dry, they must be cooked – roasted, ground, boiled, whatever, to be comestible.

And about which grain it was, my guess would be wheat, since barley in antiquity was considered less palatable than wheat, and bread made from it was considered inferior eating.

So, in answer to my reader’s questions, we are rapidly approaching the time for collecting green wheat. Which, by the way, is still done today by a few local Arab farmers here in the Galilee. They pick the green wheat, then roast it and it becomes a local delicacy called farike. So when you read about parched corn in the Bible, this is what is actually being referred to – because corn is a New World product that wasn’t known in this region during antiquity.

I will be following the progress of the wheat farming closely this year and will report, with photos, right here!