23 Nov

Olive Oil – the Golden Harvest

By Zainab Al-Arabi,

While the seasonal olive tree harvesting isn’t over yet in the Gebel region, (depending on the gatherers timetable), the rush for olive oil this year is incredible. Everybody wants it. Even those who don’t like the taste of olive oil in cooking are ready to accept it this year.

With the price of imported corn, soya, and sunflower oil as it is –at times reaching three dinars for a one liter bottle- nobody is handing over their trees to be picked by others.

In this ancient practise, olive tree grove owners who didn’t have the time or energy to harvest their trees would share half of the pressed oil with those who did the picking. On Fridays and Saturdays families pack their cars with the day’s necessities and head for their groves.

They spend the whole day under and around the olive trees, cooking their lunch on deadwood. The adults may find it tiresome after a lengthy period of harvesting, but young children always look forward to such outings, the further away from home the better.

Although in some areas the harvest has been disappointing, in others it yielded the expected target. For large families who do not own many trees of their own, buying olive oil this year from those who do is considered a necessity.

However, since it is viewed as a blessing ‘from heaven’ selling olive oil is generally regarded as distasteful. But it may be bought from the press owners who generally have a surfeit of oil because they are often paid with a percentage of the yield. Slightly before the harvest began this year, with last year’s supply of oil running low or depleted for most families, the price hit 7 dinars per litre.

The health benefits of this manna are well known and information on the subject may be found on numerous pages of the internet, but the question on many locals’ minds is aridity and drought.

Hoping for more rain each year is not enough to improve quality and quantity. Expert help is needed in this field in particular, and in improved methods of irrigation in general.

The types and ages of olive trees differ from one place to the next. In this region south of Gharian, the trees are relatively ‘young’ as the inhabitants previously led a nomadic life, preferring the keeping of camels, sheep, and goats. In the surrounding areas of Kikla, al-Gal’aa, and al-Asab’a, trees are much older, perhaps even a hundred years old.

In some fields, the planting ‘system’ has been found to follow the same lines (grids) used in ancient Roman times. Archaeological surveys also discovered ancient olive oil presses in various areas of the Gebel and in the Tarhuna region.

Evergreen, the olive tree is a great source of sustenance during hardship and sometimes an innocent cause of trouble when quarrels break out over ownership between relatives. Is it worth the effort put into its care; is it worth owning? The answer is a definite yes.

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