In the middle of the autumn olive harvest imposes itself on the Lebanese villages as a beloved and expected annual guest.
The octogenarian Hajj Abu Nayef Karim – from the town of Khirbet Selm in southern Lebanon – anxiously awaits the harvest season, and tells Al-Jazeera Net the story of 40 years of olive “responsibility”, before that he helped his mother, then he took over the task alone since 1980.
In Hajj Karim’s expressions, the vocabulary of the old villages, including names, units of measurement, and equipment. So, “hayah” means 6 ounces or 1200 grams and is used to measure oil, and it is a container or “bowl” of metal, “al-mud” is 12 kilograms of olives, and “tanaka” 16 kilograms of oil.
Al-Hajj recounts that he used to pick 5 supplies every day, or about 60 kilograms of olives. And his day begins at seven in the morning, and the afternoon break is at 11 am, and continues his fruitful day until six in the evening.
He says that in the old days of his mother, some people used to transport olives to the press on donkeys, that is, on donkeys, and the press was about 20 kilometers away, and worked manually. “The tough men used to mash the olives with a large stone back and forth, then spread the mashed olives on a tray of straw, and the process was repeated and collected The trays are stacked on top of each other, and strong men press them to squeeze olives into a large jar.
In this jar the oil floats on the surface, and the water descends to the bottom, and the process of collecting the oil begins in the measure of “body” until reaching the water, and the process takes long hours according to the quantity, while waiting for the turn may take 20 days due to the slow process of manual squeezing.
That time was – according to Hajj Karim – a time of aid and assistance. The neighbors used to gather in every little and every major, so how in the harvest season? And they would spend their day in admonition and mijana, which the pilgrim had completely forgotten, after everyone picked his olives alone or employed workers.
As for the break, it consisted of eating “zouwada”, and it was usually a simple food that did not spoil quickly, such as “bulgur and lentils” or “rice and lentils”, and Balila, meaning bulgur moistened with milk.
Pick up today
For years, the pilgrim has harvested his olives with the help of children and grandchildren. They meet every season and the operation takes place under his supervision.
He cleans the ground under the trees, spreads the cloth on them, and starts with one tree after the other, and if a family member takes control of another tree, we want Abu Nayef to follow it. And he never accepts to use the stick to hit the high kernels so as not to break the branches, as he treats his trees with love and concern. He places the wooden ladder, and you see it gently picking up the tall grains with a knower, avoiding the “tarpon” of the tree, meaning the end of the branch.
At the end of the harvest period every day, he collects the grains in bags, then takes them to a large place to spread them, and directs them to the fan or “spread the air” so that the leaves and straws fly off and the grains alone remain waiting for afternoon.
Oil and olives
Abu Nayef believes that the best time to start the process of pressing or salting olives is early autumn, and despite this he chooses with family members during the picking sometimes good and large grains to stack the olives in glass jars.
But his ultimate goal in this process is oil, and he indicates that black olives produce golden oil, while green produces an oil known as green, and its color is greenish.
He says that every 5 or 6 supplies of olives give a tin of oil, depending on the type of olives and the season. He was not very satisfied this year with his crop, as he produced 8 and a half tanks of oil, while last year’s production was more than 12 tanks. And he says that in the Shaban winepress, which is the winery of the modern village, the talk was about the farmers’ dissatisfaction with the season due to its scarcity this year.
As for olives, Ilham Jbeili says that she was happy this year because she was able to pick her olives even though the quantity was small (about 30 kilograms).
As for how to prepare olives for winter supplies, she has several methods. Black olives press it in her hand, put coarse salt on it and stir it for two days, then put it in a glass jar and add virgin olive oil to it.
And the green olives knock it, then put the water and salt “the egg whiskey”, that is, she adds the coarse salt to the water until the raw chicken egg floats so that the amount is intact, then put the olives with green or red hot peppers and pieces of lemon with its skin, and close the jar.
She says that some people cut the olives with a knife to give it an aesthetic shape instead of hammering it, and Elham remembers that there are many ways to press the olives, as some soak them with lime to make them crunchy, and some remove the seeds from it and fill it with pepper or herbs.
Cutter and press
Al-Hajj Abu Nayef says that since last year he has used a machine to pick olives, and although it increases the loss of leaves on the grains, it shortens the harvest time. Whereas he needed 10 days or two weeks to harvest his crop, this machine picked him two days.
Regarding the modern press that has become present in most villages, he says that it does everything in less than an hour of time, from washing olives to grinding them, squeezing the oil, disposing of water and “peat” that is, olive residue.
Hajj Abu Nayef believes that even if 20 men gather to harvest a tree, the olive fruit remains in it as if it were a blessing, and he is proud that he usually does not leave behind him more than a kilo of olives in each tree. And he tells about a well-known custom called “al-Baoura”. When people finish harvesting their trees, “the crossed” come, and they are the ones who harvest what remains on the trees of olives in order to stack it or extract the oil from it.
And they usually come without permission, as if it were a custom, and they extract their supplies, and some sell from this olives or from the oil, and some of those in need get 3 tanks of oil.