The First, First Fruits of Spring

20150403_114715Early on in Arabic class, we learned the names for the seasons of the year, and one of the topics for discussion was, “what is your favorite season?”   Visiting in Kufar Manda to practice my lessons, I took up this conversation with Abu Malek and Um Malek. I like winter best, I told them. The Arabic name for winter, “shitta“, is a synonym for rain, and I related how I wait all year long for the onset of winter rains that call up a plethora of edible wild plants.

Um Malek got a dreamy look in her eyes and said, “Spring”.  Since she is one of the most energetic wild plant foragers I know, I was interested to hear her choice, and asked her to explain.  Because of the zaatar, she said.

For those of us who associate winter with hibernation and spring with reawakening and new growth, these seasons have a very different significance here in the Galilee.  Winter, with its life-giving rainfall, is the time when local plants emerge, grow and mature. Zaatar has been evident on the hillsides all winter long, but now its soft, hairy leaves are large and suffused with potent essential oil, ready to be gathered, dried, crushed and mixed with sesame seeds and sumac to make dukka.

Other local foods, however, just reach an initial stage of maturity with the coming of spring.  In the market in Nazareth this past weekend, I saw soft green almonds on sale.  And on my walks in the fields, the wheat is tall and robust, loaded with fat, mature kernels of soft green grain.  Green almonds and wheat – as well as the new chick peas that will soon be appearing – are a delight to eat in their fresh, spring state, or in the case of wheat, ready to be harvested and roasted to produce farike, but their main harvest will only come later, when they are dry and more utilitarian.

By Passover, the wheat in the fields and the flowers on the fruit and olive trees give the traditional Galilee farmer an indication of harvests yet to come, assuming they can survive the upcoming, volatile 49 plus one days of the Omer, with their alternating thunderstorms and blistering hamsin (Arabic for “fifty”) winds.

In the meantime, as we retell yet again the Passover story of exile and liberation, we can also recall that this was once a harvest holiday, charged with promise and trepidation, and that first fruits can ripen in successive stages.

Extending my best Spring Holiday wishes!

Abbie

pre pesach wheat field

 

Comments

  1. Lucretia Schanfarber says:

    Hi Abbie: Your posts stimulate such delightful imagery. Thank you!
    Zaatar sounds like the Mediterranean version of gomashio, a Macrobiotic Japanese condiment. Is it kinda like that?
    As soon as my oregano, thyme, marjoram & savoury are ready for their first harvest, I will attempt making zaatar.
    Today, on this chilly & rainy Good Friday at the edge of Quadra Island’s wilderness, I am cozy in our little cottage as I read your post & savour the last bites of my huevos rancheros brunch made with eggs from our neighbor’s hens.
    A plump chicken, surrounded by a sea of garlic slices & crushed red chilies, simmers gently in the soup pot atop the wood stove. It’s the very last of my garlic harvest from last fall. This year, for the first time, I am attempting to grow garlic perennial-style so I can have a year-round supply.
    Last night a chorus of wolves gathered on the nearby cliffs and howled in harmony to an almost full moon. Life on planet earth – such a gift, such an adventure.
    I look forward with gratitude to your next post Abbie.

    • Abbie Rosner says:

      Thank you Lucretia for a post that epitomizes the beauty of writing a blog – the serendipitous meetings that take place when you send out your message and a like-minded soul picks it up. Last night the muezzin called at 4 AM and the wild dogs howled along. Let me know when you are ready to make your local version of zaatar mixture and I can help you with some suggestions.

      • Lucretia Schanfarber says:

        Hi Abbie: I’m ready to take you up on your offer to help me make zataar! I have fresh oregano, marjoram, and lemon thyme ready for a bit of tip pruning. Any advice or “recipe” you can offer is truly appreciated. Blessings, Lucretia

        • Abbie Rosner says:

          Well, you can make a very nice experiment in producing Quadra Island-style zaatar mix. Dry your herbs (leaves only), then rub them through a sieve to produce a powder. The next step is to add something that has a sourish flavor – here, the pulverized berries of the sumac bush are used but you may have some nice local alternative. And then mix in some sesame seeds. Toss with a little olive oil and taste it to see what you think. And of course, let me know how the experiment works out…