For centuries, olive trees have been a source of love in Palestine and other Mediterranean countries. Romans planted, took care of and wrote about olive trees. Ancient Egyptians used olive oil to preserve bodies. Greeks used the leaves to make wreaths for Olympic champions. In Islamic culture, olive trees are holy and are referred to in the Holy Quran as “blessed.”
Today, olive trees still receive and produce lots of love in Palestine. Almost each Palestinian family keeps at least one olive tree. My family has one planted by my grandfather 35 years ago.
It usually rains in Gaza during the last few days of September. The community believes it is a sign to start gathering olives. So we start the process of gathering and storing them. Whole families join in the process.
First, a big sheet of cloth or plastic is placed under the olive tree. Then, my Dad says, there are several ways of collecting olives. One is to climb up a ladder and use your hands to gently pluck the olives, allowing them to fall on the sheet. Another way is to shake the trunk of the tree, either by hand or with a machine made for the purpose. Dad tells us it is better to shake the tree by hand. I agree because it involves more love. The last, and worst, way of gathering olives is to use a stick to hit the branches. However, the branches could break; besides, it is rude to hit such a loving tree the same age as your great grandmother.
Then comes the second stage: removing leaves and bad “fruit,” then washing the olives to get rid of dust. The olives then can be stored or pressed to get oil.
If you choose to store the olives, then here is Dad’s recipe: First, you’ll have to ready some plastic or glass jars. Then prepare the medium in which your olives will probably stay for months. For each liter of water add 80 grams of salt. This medium will help preserve your olives. Add one cup of lemon juice and some lemon pieces; if you prefer, throw in some green chili. The bad news: You will have to wait three to six months until the olives are ready.
A second recipe requires making a cut in each olive, then washing and soaking them in water for three days, changing the water every now and then. This process, Dad says, helps get rid of the bitter taste of the olives. Then you can put them in jars along with the salt-lemon solution.
A third recipe allows you enjoy the olives only one week after storing them. Start by washing the olives, then gently crushing them using a stone. After that, add salt and lemon and let them sit for three days, stirring them occasionally. Store the olives in jars and add a little olive oil. In one week the olives will be ready.
Some people choose to send the olives to be pressed by machines to get the most delicious, healthy and blessed oil ever. Olive oil is an integral part of the Palestinian kitchen. And virtually all Palestinians are massaged with olive oil by their grandmother or mother when they are sick. You can never convince your grandmother she does not have to…it’s in her genes.
Mentor: Karen Nakamura
Posted: October 30, 2015