Wednesday, January 4, 2012

In Morocco there are three calendars:

the Roman, the Islamic and the agricultural.  Each serves its own purpose.  With Islam being the foundation of life, the Islamic calendar is followed closely.   But the others are dependent on location and employment.  

In Bouayach, time is not measured by crossing days off a calendar, Islamic or Roman..  Rather, time is measured by the seasons and crops.  Here, agriculture dictates everything.  It decided when children go to school and when they stay home, to help with the harvest.  When families earn their income and then, how much of that income is disposable.  When weddings are thrown and when babies are born.  It decides the rhythm of life.

In Ohio, there are few crops to harvest in January.  In Bouayach, there are olives.  And with those olives comes olive oil.

Each family has their own supply of olive trees.  Groves, of pale green trees, adorn families courtyards, gardens and fields.    These trees, of constant green, are a perpetual reminder of life, against a backdrop of red desert.

In January, the trees hang heavy, with the full black fruit.  Harvesting is a tiring chore that demands the time of the entire family.

Women and kids kneel at the base of lush green trees, filling their buckets with the deep purple fruit destined to become rich oils and delicious additions to meals.    Their hands move quickly, sorting olives by ripeness and placing them in the corresponding bowl. 

A man or a small child takes refuge from the gathering work and climbs the tree.  There, he takes a bamboo shoot and hits the branches until a shower of twigs, leaves and olives falls below.  Those gathering don’t even look up.  This baptism is all too familiar to them. 

Families harvest their crops and cart it home, on the backs, of melancholy donkeys.  In the days to follow, the crop will be sorted again.  Upwards of ten kilos will be placed in plastic buckets with salt water, lemon and spices.  Lids will be sealed and these buckets will be placed in the sun, until the brine is set.  The process takes several weeks. The remainder of the crop, will be taken to mills and pressed into olive oil. Families will store enough oil to last them until the next year.

In Winter, olive mills are busy with business.  Communities rely on these few mills for seasonal incomes and oil production.

The olive mill was at one point, a living room.  The family moved out and built a mill where they once drank tea.  The Press Room contains two large stone basins.  Each basin holds a stone wheel, used to grind the contents of the basin.  Much like a mortar and pestle, this unsophisticated equipment is ideal for oil production.  In each corner, was a metal crank presses, each of which has a drain into a subsurface storage tank. 

After olives are picked and sorted, they are put in the large stone basin.  Then, either the mule is harnessed to the grinding stone or four men take its place.  The olives are crushed until there is a substantial purple paste.

The paste is shoveled into grass woven baskets and placed under a crank press.  Each basket is filled with a specific amount.  As they are very heavy, it takes two men to carry just one basket.   Their placement under the press is crucial to productivity. Therefore, they are tweaked and adjusted until just right.  About ten to fifteen of these baskets are stacked, one on top the other. 

When ready, the press is cranked down and oil begins to flow from the baskets.  It seeps down to the drain the floor.  It is funneled into a white tile subsurface storage tank. Throughout the day, the press is tightened  In the beginning this process is relatively easy and can be done by one man alone.  As the process continues, it can take the strength of three men. 

When all of the baskets are placed, they extend over the heads of all workers. By the time they finished pressing, which takes about two days, the baskets barely rise to a workman's knees. 

When pressed and settled, the oil is abstracted from the tank and strained.  The remaining byproduct is deposited into the drain, which leads outside to a collecting pool.  Every week, the byproduct is burned. This process is essential, as the byproduct is incredibly harmful to the soil and other crops.

The finished product is placed in large plastic vats.  There it waits to be made into dishes, to be served at every table in Bouayach.

Wishing you all a bright and beautiful start to 2012!

All of my love

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