As you may know, we made plenty of olives this year – green and black – from our beloved Suri olive tree. But making oil was not on the agenda. Until Balkees pointed out that, to leave the massive amount of olives on our one other tree, of the Barnea variety, would be a shame. On Tuesday she and her teenage son Fares came over and, for the next five hours we picked the olives off that huge tree. During that time I had two realizations: 1) picking olives is extremely hard work; and 2) Balkees is happiest in the top branches of an olive tree.
On Thursday, we loaded up our cardboard boxes full of olives into the car, picked up Balkees and Fares, and drove to the village of Arrabe, near Sakhnin, to the press. We chose this press for two reasons – 1) because it is the end of the season, most of the presses are already closed, and those that are still working will only take massive quantities. Even though we only had the equivalent of about 2 sacks, the press in Arrabe agreed to take us. 2) This particular press, in addition to operating a modern, industrial style milling system, is one of the last in the Galilee that still has the old-style millstone and press set-up. This was something I have long wanted to see.
When we got there, we had a number of surprises. 1) weighing our olives, we found that we’d picked 95 kilos! (our most extravagant estimate was 70); 2) They will only operate the stone press if you have at least 300 kilos. But undaunted, we poured our olives in the hopper, watched as the twigs and leaves were washed away and the fruit was crushed into a purple slurry (particular to black Barnea olives), and then positioned our jerrycan at the spigot where the oil comes out.
Feeling optimistic, Ron had brought an 18-liter jerrycan with us. And as we watched in amazement, not only did the jerrycan fill up entirely, but the owner of the press had to bring us 3 empty 1.5 liter soda bottles to contain the rest. We hadn’t dreamed that we’d get so much oil from our work on this single tree!
Of course, as we were watching this, on what happened to be the third night of Hannukah, the parallel was inescapable. Here was oil that was miraculously extending beyond all expectations. And in the joyful atmosphere at the press, this was the best holiday spirit that anyone could ask for!