Olive Season

al-Mshairfeh, Jerash, Jordan

This morning I’m back in Mshairfeh, and I can’t help but wish that Megan had been able to come this weekend, while everyone across the north of the country is picking olives. I know I had fun helping when I was here before, and learning all about how it’s done, and I know my brother Ben had just as much fun helping his family pick olives in Croatia.

People call olive trees their children, because like children, they can take up to a dozen years to yield fruit, but thereafter, they offer substantial support to a family in many ways. That is why it is always so heartbreaking for me to see footage of Israelis uprooting olive trees with bulldozers in Palestine. There are the olives themselves, which yield all kinds of foodstuffs I’ll get to in a moment. Then, after the harvest, the trees are pruned, and the pruned branches are given to the goats to be stripped of their leaves. Then the wood is chopped and used to heat the house in the winter. In addition, the “jiffet,” or what is left over of olives after the oil has been pressed out of them, is mixed with water, made into balls and left to dry in the sun. These balls of jiffet are used as fuel all winter, each one burning for about 15 minutes, at temperatures higher than wood because of the residual oil left after pressing.

In addition to olive oil, there are several ways to preserve olives. The whole olives can be put in water with some hot peppers and halved lemons, but they take several months to cure this way. I helped to crack olives this morning, by pounding on them with the bottom of an empty glass soda bottle. These cracked olives can be put in water with peppers and lemons, and will cure and be ready to eat in a matter of weeks. I’m not a big fan of whole olives, myself, but there is one way of preserving olives that I do love: The olives are chopped, added to chopped hot peppers, onions and carrots, and canned. Within a couple weeks, this relish-like topping is ready to be scooped up with pita bread for a light lunch at school.

And of course there is the olive oil. I am looking forward to sampling the bottle of olive oil sent home with me by the headmistress, Umm Alaa. Not to be outdone, her sister Umm Anis has promised to send me home with a bottle of her olive oil next time I visit!

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