On the last day of Passover, which this year coincided with Easter Monday, I got the call. Friends of my friend Balkees – farmers in the village of Mashhad, just outside Nazareth – were making farike and we were invited to join.
Farike – for the unfamiliar – is wheat, harvested when the kernels are fully developed but still green, roasted over a fire, threshed, dried and ground, with the end result looking like a green-ish bulgar. In Biblical times, roasted grain was one of the agricultural products sanctioned for sacrifice at the Temple. Today it is a beloved staple of Galilee Arab cuisine.
Because agriculture in the Arab sector in Israel is on a steep decline, much of the farike that is sold in stores is imported from Turkey. But if you are fortunate enough to know a local farmer who happens to still undertake the extreme toil of raising wheat and producing farike, then you can buy it from him and enjoy the true “local food”. I was even more fortunate, and was invited to come and take part in the process.
In the rich agricultural plateau between Nazareth, we faced a wheatfield that was green on one part and golden on the other – the latter being a different variety and intended for producing flour.
It would be harvested with a combine, while the relatively small field for farike had to be harvested by hand…
The two sons of the farmer, Abu Salach – strong young men in their early twenties – handed us short, wooden-handled sickles, and showed us how to wrap the curve of the blade around a bunch of wheat stalks, then holding just below the ear, to pull sharply.
At the nearby threshing floor, the ears of wheat picked on the preceding days were drying on tarps in the sun. In order for the exterior parts of the wheat to burn properly, the ears have to be dried for two days. The brothers spread a thick layer of wheat over a metal frame and lit the pile, tossing it with a pitchfork to spread the flames. When they were all charred, they went to another tarp for an additional drying before threshing in a machine that would be attached to the family tractor. The cleaned grains would be dried again, this time in the shade so as not to fade their green color, before being stored in sacks.
This April has been unseasonably cool, and this morning there was even a short rainfall. All I could think of was all that wheat out on the tarps, getting wet – the product of so much difficult labor perhaps destroyed. With so much at stake, one can understand how compelling was the promise from Deuteronomy: ‘If, then, you obey the commandments that I enjoin upon you this day, loving the Lord your God and serving Him with all your heart and soul, I will grant the rain for your land in season, the early rain and the late. You shall gather in your new grain and wine and oil. (Deuteronomy 11:13-14).’