February 23, 2015

Lost in the Olive Gro(o)ve

Smoke in the olive grove
 Got lost in an olive grove this past Sunday. You see, something in the country side attracted our attention; a little white church, it looked a little like a Spanish mission. We weren’t sure how to get there, but there was this one little road that seemed to lead in its directions. Only, it didn’t. The road stopped, but there were olive trees everywhere, and so we figured that if we’d just walk through the olive grove, we’d get there.

But it has been raining a lot – as you may have noticed – and it was kind of muddy, and of course we weren’t wearing the right shoes, and while avoiding the thick clay and puddles, we sort of lost track of exactly where we were supposed to be going. And this was not just an ordinary olive grove; this one must have had thousands of trees; an olive grove of industrial size. That made sense, as the land around the church is probably owned by the church, and the church has always been a landowner of substantial proportions.
To make a long story short, we found the little white church, which was more like a chapel. (Saydet el Hraiche,  it turns out, at 34° 22' 7.36" N 35° 45' 0.02" E). But that’s not the point. The sheer size of this olive grove was just mesmerizing. Trees upon trees upon trees of olives, and not young trees either. And even though it is winter up in the mountains, and people are skiing up in the mountains, down in the olive grove, it was spring. The ground was covered in yellow flowers, homaida.
The snow capped Cedars in the background
 Workers were trimming the trees, preparing them for the new growth season (olive harvest ends in November) , burning the left-over bits of wood, while placing the larger pieces aside for firewood.

The benefits of olives are well-known. Here in Lebanon we eat them for breakfast, lunch and dinner, we have our preferences for black or green, we wash ourselves with olive oil soap and we practically drink the olive oil ‘on the rocks’.
There are an estimated 13 million olive trees in Lebanon, covering around 57,000 hectares (or some 5.4 % of Lebanese territory), most of them which are 150 years or older (according to this document, I am not sure if this is accurate information). With some 170,000 olive farmers, you wonder what we do with all those olives? 70% of the harvest is pressed into olive oil, the rest is sold as olives. Lebanon produced some 20,000 tons of oil in 2011. Apparently we consume it all ourselves. I read somewhere that a Western agricultural expert had commented that the agricultural sector of Lebanon was ‘export averse’, i.e.  not really looking to export.

Fire (olive) wood for the stove

I used to, back in Holland, buy my olive oil in 75cl bottles, which would last me for two months. Here in Lebanon, I think we go through 60 liters a year, but it might be more. It’s like we’re drinking it. Olive oil, although high in fat (it’s called ‘oil’ for a reason), is considered healthy because it contains mainly MUFA.  (monounsaturated fatty acid.) ‘MUFAs have been found to lower your total cholesterol and help normalize blood clotting’, according to the Mayo Clinic. (Here more reasons why you should even fry in olive oil).
Homayda ground cover
And so here we were, lost in the olive grove. I could totally built my future house here. Next time I think I will be planning a picnic there. More to come on olive groves. 


NADER Michel said...

Hi Dear, I guess this is in Koura region, Anfeh?
I can see u always have posts from Koura region.
As a matter of fact, I have a project related to this region and I believe you can highly contribute in it.
Can you please send us your email so that we can communicate easier?

Many thanks & Keep posting!

Anonymous said...

Nice post as usual. I hope you will do a post on the old sisters olive trees (the really ancient ones). Cheers.

Tanya Dernaika said...

Breathtaking photos. Beautiful account.

Sietske said...

@Nader: sietskeinbeiroet@gmail.com

Thank you Tanya and anonymous!!! :)

Elie Touma said...

As usual, fantastic photos of the lovely nature around us. Thanks to you for widening our horizons, and introducing new vistas for us the lazy bunch!