June 25th-27th 2018 – A mouthwatering wonder

This week we welcome back our old friends Didi and Shira Amosi of the Tene Yarok farm, who have returned with their excellent-quality organic olive oil. I asked them to kindly contribute a few words about themselves, and this is what they wrote:

In Tene Yarok (Hebrew for “Green Basket”), an organic farm located in the northern Jordan Valley, we grow a select variety of olives: picholine, picual, leccino, barnea, cortina, koroneiki and Syrian. Each species has its own flavor and distinctive character.

Those who remember us from previous years as Chubeza associates must be wondering where we disappeared to. Well, we didn’t actually disappear, or rather, we almost did…

Three years ago, during the sabbatical year of Shmita, we decided to adopt the beautiful Jewish notion of abandoning the field to allow the needy and all to enjoy the blessings and harvest the olive yield to their hearts’ desire. In addition, Shmita is meant to allow the earth and trees a period of rest from cultivation and treatment. So we chose not to earn a living from the olives during Shmita.

But the olive tree is an alternate bearing tree: one year it produces a larger yield, followed by a much smaller yield the next year. Since during Shmita the trees were bursting with olives, the consecutive year bore nearly none. Additionally, much of the fruit was unharvested during Shmita, and the remaining fruit left to shrivel on the trees harmed their productivity. Hence, we paid the price of Shmita for some three years, causing us to take a leave of absence from the olive oil business over that period.

To our great joy, this year we were blessed with an outstanding yield. The olives were harvested on time and the oil left the olive press fresh, clear and of excellent quality. We submitted our oil to a national competition and were thrilled to come in first, granting us the title of the best organic olive oil in Israel. Later, our oil attended an international competition in Italy, where it received the “Double Gold Medal” – the highest rank ever received by Israeli olive oil in this competition.

The oil is marketed at three levels (priced accordingly):

Blend – High-quality blend suitable for the average palate – 48 NIS for a 0.750 liter bottle/203 NIS for a 4 liter can

Variety – Picual/Leccino/Syrian – Choose your favorite flavor of olive oil – 54 NIS for 0.750 liter bottle

Gold – Oil produced from the Picholine species, awarded the best oil in Israel of this type. You’ll believe it when you taste it! – 60 NIS for 0.750 liter bottle.

Enjoy!

Didi and Shira Amosi, The Tene Yarok Farm

(Don’t wait! Go straight to the Chubeza Order System to purchase these amazing products, delivered in your box.)

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There was once a woman, let’s call her Helen
Who made her home in a watermelon
She brought in two stools, a chair and a broom, 
Carved out a window and a living room, 
Bought a cat to catch mice and named him Grover
Then all of a sudden… the season was over…

 

(Nurit Zarchi, Translated by A. Raz)

Illustration: Yossi Abulafia

 I have a sneaking suspicion that this woman actually resided in Chubeza’s watermelon field, though it’s hard to imagine her fitting all of her belongings into our small-sized models. Yet, the feeling of the watermelon season ending so abruptly is as too familiar to us. Watermelon season at Chubeza is really short – approximately a month – so before it ends, we want to share some fascinating facts about the wonderful watermelon. This week’s Newsletter is green and red all over…

Summer officially arrived last Thursday, and the hot, heavy days are becoming more and more prevalent. But while we moan and groan about the oppressive heat, the watermelon remains unfazed. It just loves the heat, a throwback to its origins in the southern part of the African continent, the Kalahari Desert. In the scorching desert, the watermelon, boasting a more-than-90% water content, was an important and vital source of liquid to humankind and wild animals. The difficulty in choosing a good watermelon is an old story. Even in its wild form, the sweet watermelon is identical on the outside to a bitter watermelon, which is why the thirsty passerby would punch a hole in the watermelon rind to test its taste.

From South Africa, the watermelon spread across the African continent, and was cultivated in Egypt over 4,000 years ago. Ancient Egyptians drew depictions of watermelons to decorate sarcophagi and cave walls, and they would leave a watermelon near the dead to nourish them on their journey to the New World. The Hebrews knew it from Egypt, reminiscing, “We remember the fish, which we did eat in Egypt freely; the cucumbers, and the melons…”

From North Africa, the watermelon entered the Middle East where it grew well and was even mentioned several times in the Mishna. It arrived in China in the 10th century, and today China is the champion watermelon grower, followed closely by Turkey and Iran. In the 13th century, the Moors brought it with them to Europe, along with other plants they met in Africa and Asia. The watermelon arrived in America with the black slaves and the European settlers.

Chubeza’s love affair with watermelons began with naiveté, pretentiousness, and… failure. During my last year in California, just before I established Chubeza, I raised red, orange and yellow watermelons (these are the colors inside) in a farm owned by Joe Perry, my mentor. We had nice success with the yields, and I was under the impression that growing watermelon would be simple, so I added watermelon to Chubeza’s nascent crop list. The first year, the watermelons simply did not grow, and we only picked a few dozen from our fancy beds. Fortunately, back in 2004, our entire clientele also numbered a few dozen, so they received the watermelons as planned (which, admittedly, weren’t too sweet). One of the main reasons for this failure was the timing. I seeded watermelons like we did in California, at the end of spring. Yet springtime in Israel is fraught with viruses and disease, particularly among the cucurbit family to which our watermelon friend belongs.

After taking a hiatus of several years, chalking up experience with cucurbits and their viruses, we made a second watermelon attempt eight years ago. This time we seeded earlier, resulting in a larger yield. A year later we did even better, and six years ago we dared to plant seedless watermelon varieties. This sort of watermelon-growing is more complex than raising a standard seed-filled watermelon, for we are essentially trying to buck nature. The mission of every fruit and vegetable is to reproduce and generate offspring (seeds). Wo/man, meanwhile, is bent on getting rid of the watermelon seeds, and not by spitting them out. Modern-day human beings had grown weary of seeded fruits and set out to develop seedless varieties. Actually, a seedless watermelon does contain some tiny seeds, however most are transparent as well as infertile. You must admit this is strange, to try to develop a fruit which cannot produce seeds or offspring. On one hand, a vast scientific effort is being placed upon refining and improving human fertilization via IVF, freezing embryos and sperm, surrogates, etc., while simultaneously we are encouraging sterility in fruits.

So how do these “seedless” watermelons work? Regular watermelon seeds are diploid seeds, i.e., containing two sets of X chromosomes. Those used in order to produce seedless watermelons are tetraploid, possessing four sets of X chromosomes. Seedless watermelon seeds have a harder than average shell, which is why it is more difficult to grow the melons from seeds. In most cases, they are planted as transplants that were started in the nursery under controlled conditions. The tetraploid seeds sprout and become plants that will generate leaves and flowers but no fruit, unless they’re fertilized from flowers of a regular seeded watermelon. Therefore, you must plant one row of regular watermelons for every three to four rows of seedless ones. During pollination, each seed contributes half of its chromosomes: 1+2, resulting in a fruit whose seeds are tetraploid, possessing three sets of chromosomes. This uneven number disrupts the seed’s ability to reproduce, and ultimately sterilizes it. Thus we receive a fruit which is juicy and sturdier than its seeded friends, but it evolved from the “virgin birth” of an unfertilized cell. It’s called a “Parthenocarpic fruit,” in essence, the mule of the botanical world…

Human beings are not alone in adoring the watermelon, which is also loved by animals and, of course, birds. More specifically, intrepid sweet-toothed hard-beaked blackbirds. We protect our fruits with a passion, otherwise, we find them looking like this:

Which is when we cover the bed with a bird’s net preventing the blackbirds from feasting on this red, juicy delight.

Watermelon is a healing fruit. Its high water content cleanses the body, making watermelon juice well-recommended for those suffering from bladder and liver deficiencies. It is also beneficial for cleansing the kidneys. Watermelon even helps to clean the body of cigarette smoke – highly recommended for active and passive smokers alike.

Traditional Yemenite folk cures use watermelon seeds to rid bad breath and stains from the teeth and mouth. Crush the seeds well, immerse them in water, and then strain for a super mouthwash. In Iraq, watermelon rind is used to treat fungal infections. Libyan Jews are known to rub their skin with watermelon rind to lighten age spots. Watermelon contains vitamin A in the form of carotenoid, vitamin C, and vitamins from the B group as well (B1 and B2). It is low in nitrogen and high in potassium.

Further information about the nutritional and therapeutic virtues of our round, red, delicious friend can be found here (Hebrew).

So… how does one select a ripe, sweet watermelon?

–       We pick the watermelon at its ripest, when the tendril near the stem dries up. Therefore, when choosing a watermelon at the stand, look for the drier stem, indicating that the watermelon wasn’t picked while green.

–       The part that comes in contact with the ground changes its color to yellow, so you should look for a yellow (not white) spot on one of the watermelon sides.

–       And the most mysterious signal of all: if you tap on the fruit, you will hear a dim sound reverberating back to you.

Check out this live demonstration

How to store a watermelon:

The best temperature to store a watermelon is 12°C, but even at room temperature (23°) the watermelon will keep for a week to 10 days. Don’t overdo it, though. A watermelon stored for too long will lose its taste and change its texture.

It is not recommended to freeze a watermelon or store it in the cooler compartments of your fridge. Overexposure to cold can cause frostbite, taking a toll on the watermelon’s flavor and making the inside soft and powdery. To store it after slicing open, wrap in plastic wrap and store at a temperature of 3-4°.

And once you have that excellent watermelon, slice it, add mint and feta cheese, and sit back and enjoy this spectacular summer treat, while reading a collection of surprising, interesting and humorous facts about watermelons (Hebrew)

Check out our recipe section for interesting things to do with watermelon, aside from slicing cubes and red smileys and devouring it on the spot. Enjoy!

Alon, Bat Ami, Dror, Yochai and the Chubeza team

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WHAT’S IN THIS WEEK’S BOXES?

Monday: Melon/watermelon, Napolitano pumpkin/butternut squash, New Zealand spinach/Swiss chard, cucumbers/fakkus, cherry tomatoes, tomatoes, potatoes, corn,  eggplant/zucchini, onions/leeks/garlic, parsley.

Large box, in addition: Thai yard-long beans, Amoro pumpkin/acorn squash, lettuce.

FRUIT BOXES: Watermelon, mango, banana, grapes.

Wednesday: Melon/watermelon, Amoro pumpkin/acorn squash, New Zealand spinach/Swiss chard.lettuce, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, tomatoes, potatoes, corn,  eggplant/zucchini, onions/leeks, parsley/cilantro.

Large box, in addition: Thai yard-long beans/green beans, Napolitano pumpkin/butternut squash, garlic.

FRUIT BOXES: Watermelon, apples, grapes. small boxes: banana. Large boxes: mango.