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The open-air market in Nazareth is a fine place to discover what local fruits and vegetables are in season here in the Galilee. A visit to the market at the eve of the Jewish New Year reminded me of the Biblical seven species - the foods that were listed as those to be found in the Promised Land - which are: wheat, barley, olives, grapes, figs, pomegranates and honey (dates). These seven agricultural products represent two growing seasons - the winter/spring for the grains, and the summer/autumn for the remainder. Now, at the height of the fall season, the market stands were loaded with purple and green grapes, fat crimson pomegranates and the small, light green variety of figs that mark the end of the summer. But the star of the market show was undeniably the dramatic fronds of bright red dates.
What was missing out of the summer fruits? Only the olives are still ripening on the trees, and we'll only begin to see them in the coming weeks - bringing one agricultural season to a close with the coming of the first winter rains.
Nazareth is Israel's largest Arab city and an excellent place to experience traditional Galilee Arab cuisine. Hidden among the narrow stone alleyways of the old-city market, fragrant with roasting coffee and cardamom, a host of market eateries and upscale restaurants offer a veritable feast of traditional specialties, sometimes with a chef's very personal "tweak". Now, you can explore some of Nazareth's culinary treasures using an iphone.
A RAMA iphone app entitled , "A Culinary Tour of Nazareth" offers clear instructions on where to go, what to order and how to ask for it, along with plenty of background information and insider tips.
The Tasting the Old City tour was written by me, Abbie Rosner, a food writer specializing in the multicultural culinary landscape of the Galilee, and also the founder of "Culinary Tours of the Galilee" (www.galileecuisine.co.il) and the author of Breaking Bread in Galilee – A Culinary Journey into the Promised Land.
Since the time of the Bible, people have been sustained here by freshly baked flat breads, olive oil, wild herbs, goat and sheep cheese, and more, and these local staples distinguish and define traditional Galilee Arab cuisine. In my explorations of Nazareth, I have found these foods featured in endless, wondrous configurations. And I’ve also encountered the gracious hospitality of chefs and restaurateurs, happy to share the stories behind
I recently received a question from a reader of my blog which was particularly timely. He referred to a passage from the Book of Matthew that goes something like:
At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry and began to pick some heads of grain and eat them. Matthew 12:1
The questioner wanted to know if I could tell him what kind of grain this could have been and during which months this might have occurred. After spending so much time investigating the history of grains and particularly wheat here in the Galilee, I was so pleased to be able to give him a coherent answer.
We are now approaching Passover and Easter - a time when the grain fields are still ripening, and when this particular state of ripening of barley and wheat, during the time of Matthew, determined when Passover would be celebrated. Wheat is usually harvested around the beginning of June - historically corresponding with the holiday of Shavuoth - Feast of the Pentacost. But sometime in April, when the heads of the wheat are still green and haven't turned golden and dry yet, the wheat kernels become plump and soft, full of protein and sugar, and this is the only time that they can be eaten raw. After that, when the kernels are fully ripe and dry, they must be cooked - roasted, ground, boiled, whatever, to be comestible.
And about which grain it was, my guess would be wheat, since barley in antiquity was considered l
Here in the Galilee, a modest but auspicious ease in the heat is rousing us out of our summer torpor. That and the impending preparations for Rosh Hashana - with the questions that are on everyone's lips: who is eating where and preparing what?
Our holiday table, like most, will be graced with a plate of sliced apples, and a bowl of honey to dip them in - to remind our tongues and the pleasure centers of our brains how sweet life can and hopefully will be in the coming year. This year, however, the honey we'll be dipping into will have a darker hue and more complex flavor than usual.
The research I've been doing on the origins and history of the seven species of the Land of Israel (wheat, barley, vines, figs, pomegranates, olives and honey) has changed the way I understand this last and sweetest of the seven.
Nogah Reuveni, one of the pioneering scholars of Israel's biblical agricultural landscape, astutely observed that, of all the seven species, there is only one which is not a plant or plant product (gu
As the seasonal cycle of Galilee's local foods turns from spring to the heat of summer, the array of produce in the markets and vegetable shops is changing before our eyes. At my local greengrocer in the Bedouin village up the road, there are tiny, tender okra, long stalks of maluhiya, and neatly stacked piles of grape leaves, which are at their best still early in the season - the size of my open hand, with their characteristic natural sour flavor. Women all over the Galilee, whether they are Christian, Muslim or Jewish, are rolling grape leaves around a myriad different stuffings - that could include meat or not, rice, cheese, cinnamon and pine nuts. My mother-in-law, of Romanian descent, makes her grape leaves in a sweet and sour, tomato based sauce, while my Bedouin friend Nadya skips the tomato paste, opting to line the bottom and top of the cooking pan with slices of fresh tomato and onions. She packs the pot snugly with dozens of stuffed leaves and stuffed baby zucchini, which cook together to make a densely layered summer meal for an entire extended family. The advent of freezers means that this seasonal specialty is
The period between Passover/Easter and the Feast of Weeks, in ancient times, marked the beginning and end of the grain harvesting season, starting with the early-ripening barley, and ending with the wheat. For the ancient agriculturalists, however, this seven-week period was fraught with anxiety. The weather at the end of winter and beginning of spring is highly unpredictable. Even now, in late April, I never know if the following day I'll be bundling up in a sweater or out in shorts and a t-shirt. Farmers in ancient times - and even the farmers of today - can expect anything from rain and hail to scorching heat waves - and any of these extreme weather conditions could ruin his crop.
But in ancient times, for months, the farmer had toiled to plow the hard earth - praying for an early rain to soften the soil, sowed the seeds and then prayed for the later rains that would water his crops. And if everything went well, and the grain grew to maturity, the prospect of losing it a
Ripening fields of grain are a common site in the Galilee in the spring - a reminder of the agricultural origins of the quintessential spring holiday - Passover. In the Old Testament, explicit instructions are given regarding when the celebration of the Israelites' exodus from Egypt should take place - that is, in the month of "Aviv" (in Hebrew, the letters B and V are often interchanged).
"You shall observe the Feast of Unleavened Bread; for seven days you are to eat unleavened bread, as I commanded you, at the appointed time in the month Abib, for in it you came out of Egypt." Exodus 23:15
"Aviv", which in modern Hebrew means "Spring", in the biblical context actua