Monday, December 17, 2012

The Forest Primeval~Dibeen Forest

Last weekend, Dear Husband and I hiked in Dibeen Forest/Nature Reserve. It was supposed to be a hike, but it turned out to be a gentler nature walk as Dear Husband patiently waited for me to admire and then photograph the enchanting beauty of the forest. A week later, and I am still enchanted by the lingering memory of the beauty found in the forest. It is no wonder that poets from Virgil to Spenser to Dante to Longfellow to Tolkien imagined the magic of the forest.

     This is the forest primeval. The murmuring pines
               and hemlocks,
     Bearded with moss, and in garments green, indistinct
               in the twilight,
     Stand like Druids of eld, with voices sad and pro-
     Stand like harpers hoar, with beards that rest on their
     Loud from its rocky caverns, the deep-voiced neigh-
             boring ocean
     Speaks, and in accents disconsolate answers the wail 
             of the forest...

            from Evangeline, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

a murmuring Aleppo pine, beard resting on its bosom

"But the forest is queer... And the trees do not like strangers. They watch you. They are usually content merely to watch you, as long as daylight lasts, and don't do much... But at night things can be most alarming, or so I am told. I have only once or twice been in here after dark, and then only near the hedge. I thought all the trees were whispering to each other, passing news and plots along in an unintelligible language; and the branches swayed and groped without any wind."
—Merry, Fellowship of the Ring, J.R.R. Tolkien


Yes, I'm glad that we visited the forest during daylight hours--especially the Arbutus trees.


And as I took a picture of Dear Husband sitting on this downed giant, I noticed some interesting "scribbles" on the side of its trunk. Upon closer inspection, I discovered a few different kinds of fungi.

Though no wildflowers were in bloom, the usual beauty that I have my eyes attuned to on such walks, the discovery of the fungi encouraged a closer look at the winter beauty which the forest had to offer. My eyes were next delighted by the yellow and green lichens found on trees and rocks alike...

and by the exquisite markings of the cyclamen leaves, bearing hopeful witness that flowers are soon to come.

And then there was the beautiful bronze of the turning leaves of the Arbutus tree.

The smooth, bronze, twisted limbs of the Arbutus always inspire my imagination. I thought this limb resembled  a well developed bicep. "Very well developed," adds Dear Husband.

 And these three friends--what might they be discussing after dark?


The Arbutus tree is commonly known as the Strawberry tree. I had always thought it was so named because of its sort-of-but-not-really strawberry colored bark, but I discovered the true reason for its name when we happened upon of a grove of Strawberry trees bearing bright red fruit.

The Palestine Oak is another tree found in the higher altitudes of the Dibeen forest.

We happened upon a couple of clearings planted with olive groves. They looked so beautiful but one site I read said that local farmers had illegally cleared some areas and planted olive trees, degrading the natural flora. Perhaps this is one the areas referred to.

Exiting this forest we passed under the banner of this errant limb, pondering how it continued to grow sideways instead of toward the sun. I obviously missed something in my botany study.

I hope to return to Dibeen this spring for some orchid hunting...

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Olive Harvest

One of the really wonderful things about living in the Middle East is olives. You can eat them at any meal and anytime in between. A man of humble means told Dear Husband that "olives make a meal", and that is true, especially when a meal might otherwise be bread and tea.

And, one of the wonderful things about living in Mafraq is our yard, in which grow five mature olive trees that produce good olives. Dear Husband, due to his great success last year of curing two gallons of olives, both green and black, has received the moniker "Abu Zaytoon" (Father of Olives). Even with rationing, we ran out of his delicious olives by June, so this year we begged him to prepare more, much more, than last year.

A couple local workers picked our olives one day last week, setting aside the best for curing. Dear Husband will have the rest pressed for oil. The first step is measuring--how many jars would we need to buy this year?

Next comes the sorting: black olives, large green olives with a little color, and smaller green olives. 

The next step is the most time consuming: slicing three small slits in each olive. This process took Dear Husband about three evenings. Note the (new) coal/wood stove in the corner of our sun porch. We are officially country folk.

Dear Husband received all his curing instruction and advice from one of the workers who picked our olives. Jordanians have varying opinions on the best way to cure olives, but since this worker's advice yielded such good results last year, Dear Husband is following his instructions again this year. He used two different methods to cure this year's harvest: one method for the black olives and another for the green.

After slitting the black olives, Dear Husband salted them and put them in the sun, such as it is in early December. The salting was repeated for four days. After four days, he soaked the olives in water for about an hour to extract much of the salt, and packed them in jars with olive oil. The salting draws the bitterness out of the olives so it is possible to eat them now, though they will mellow further as they soak in the olive oil.


After the green olives are slit, they are soaked in water, which Dear Husband changed daily, for three days.

The  green olives are now ready to be placed in jars of brine. Exactly how much salt do you put in the water for a good brine? The traditional measure: keep adding salt until an egg floats. That is 1/2 cup to 2 liters of water, but measuring cups are an American convention, so the egg float method is really best.

Dear husband also adds 1/4 cup white vinegar. Lemons, which Dear Husband plans to add a week into the brining process, can also be added at this point, as can hot peppers. The olives will be ready for eating in about five to six weeks.

The jars of olives take a proud sentinel position on our kitchen pantry shelf o'plenty. Dear Husband thought me a little silly when I told him that one of the satisfactions of preserving food is looking at the jars of pretty food stored up for the future enjoyment. I have since seen him standing back and admiring the jars of olives he prepared. The patient waiting begins.

Yislam 'idayk,  Ya Abu Zaytoon! (God's peace on your hands, O Father of Olives)

Update: The olives have been pressed and the yield is considered low this year. A good oil yield is 16 % of the raw olive weight and this year the yield was 13%, so our 66 kilograms of olives yielded just over nine kilograms of oil. (1 kilogram = 2.21 pounds)

Saturday, December 01, 2012

Basil Harvest~Pesto

Harvest season coincides with holiday preparations in our land of temperate climate, thus I am decking the halls, readying for Christmas baking, and making pesto from my last big basil harvest all in the same week. Our few olive trees will be picked tomorrow, insha'allah.

For some unidentified reason, is has been several years since I, lover of basil, have taken the time to make pesto. It really doesn't take much time. It's been so long that I couldn't even find my recipe--the one I made back in the days when pine nuts didn't cost $20 a pound. So, I perused a few pesto recipes ala Pinterest and in the end made something that wasn't really like any that I had referred to for inspiration.

Basil Pesto
2 stuffed cups of basil 
1/2 cup toasted walnuts
2 medium cloves fresh garlic 
1/2 grated Parmesan or Grand Padano cheese
1-2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice 
1/3 cup olive oil
1/4 teaspoon sea salt

Combine basil, walnuts, garlic, cheese in the food processor and process until well blended. Add lemon juice, salt, and olive oil, continue processing, scraping down sides as needed.  This recipe is easily doubled--I made two double recipes today. The jar in the picture went into the refrigerator and the rest into the freezer and to a friend.

Note bene: depending how much of a garlic bite you like your pesto to have, you can alter the quantity of garlic. My garlic was pretty strong and with two medium cloves it has a distinct garlic bite. One recipe I with lesser quantities of similar ingredients called for 4-6 cloves of garlic. I can't imagine.