Happy Diverse Chanukah!

For a tempting winter treat, make delicious cocktails out of the cider, juices and apple concentrates from Matsesa. Serve steaming or as an aperitif along with your entrees or as a mouthwatering finale together with dessert. Click here for two excellent recipes for yummy warm alcoholic cider and apple cider. The Matsesa crew can’t wait to hear how these came out, so please let them know!

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Light, my light, the world-filling light,
the eye-kissing light,
heart-sweetening light!

Ah, the light dances, my darling, at the center of my life;
the light strikes, my darling, the chords of my love;
the sky opens, the wind runs wild, laughter passes over the earth.

The butterflies spread their sails on the sea of light.
Lilies and jasmines surge up on the crest of the waves of light.

The light is shattered into gold on every cloud, my darling,
and it scatters gems in profusion.

Mirth spreads from leaf to leaf, my darling,
and gladness without measure.
The heaven’s river has drowned its banks
and the flood of joy is abroad.

Rabindranath Tagore

This week marked the formal beginning of wintertime. The skies already grow darker in late afternoon, evening falls earlier and earlier, and the hours of darkness keep extending. We walk into the house and flip on the lights. But in olden times, darkness had a much more dramatic effect. Candlelight or bonfire flickers were the only way to break the blackness, and danger prevailed during the long hours of darkness. As fear gripped the heart, the best way to confront the anxiety was through community gatherings lit up for the occasion. Which is why in many cultures, festivals of light are prominent during winter. Chanukah, Christmas, the Indian Diwali, Loi Krathong in Thailand, Klausjagen in Lucerne, the festival of lights in Lyon and other light-related festivals are specifically celebrated during this time of the year when the light wanes.

Chanukah, our very own festival of lights, celebrates the victory of the tiny light over the great darkness, in this case – the Greek occupation that inflicted its culture on the Jewish occupants of the country. Antiochus the Greek saw his Hellenistic culture as far loftier than the local Jewish culture which he perceived as barbaric, and sought to create unity among the nations he conquered. After all, what is better than one strong, beautiful and divinely prescribed culture to bring about loyalty, bonding and unity? He therefore prohibited the nations under his occupation to practice any religious and cultural rituals, and the Temple – the Jew’s symbol of spiritual expression and sacred practice – was desecrated, defiled and rendered impure. The Greek statue placed in the Temple and the religious persecution prohibiting Jews from practicing their sacred rituals were enacted to proclaim the supremacy of the Greek culture and the defeat of local beliefs.

Turns out, this didn’t actually work… The affront to culture and religion spawned a volatile rebellion, the conquering of Jerusalem by the Maccabees, purification of the holy Temple, and the return of Jewish rituals, leading to some 80 years of Hasmonean rule in Judah. When I was young, I was told this story as one that highlighted the victory of nationalism and religion. And perhaps, historically, that makes sense. But today when I return to the story, I can see the strength of the aspiration for autonomy and unique self-expression. A unification of culture cannot survive for long. We all need our identity and communal expression, and when there’s a broad spectrum of identity and cultures – that’s when the great light prevails.

In our food as well, without that wide variation, our vegetable salads, or any meal for that matter, would be very uniform and meager. In diverse places round the globe, many types of food and crops were developed and cultivated, and the synergy between them, without cancelling each other out, has created the marvelous wealth of our vegetable boxes. So in honor of Chanukah, I shall sing praises to the liberty of raising homegrown vegetables that are varied and interesting, and dedicate this newsletter and the next to the tale of agricultural culture worldwide.

In the beginning, wo/mankind were nomadic hunters and gatherers. They did not fence themselves in, did not build houses or work the field for agricultural cultivation. They moved from place to place, scavenging whatever they found along the way: weeds, grains, caryopsis, leaves, roots and fruit. Each season introduced additional crops, and people moved according to the weather, just like the migrating birds which spend their winters in warmer climates and escape the heat by drifting to cooler placer in summer. Seeds of grains, fruit and hard roots which can be stored for longer periods of time were sometimes preserved in preparation of harsh winters.

Over time, human beings discovered the secret of plant reproduction: if you keep the seeds yielded by the crop, you can replant them in the soil and grow a new plant. As people began settling down, they domesticated plants and animals by gathering the plants they enjoyed (not too bitter or toxic) closer to them to grow and cultivate. The seeds from the more successful crops were kept from season to season, also according to their use – those with extra-large leaves, a big root or fruit; those tastier than others, sweeter or stronger flavored, and those which demonstrated strength and durability in face of pests and weather hazards. Thus, humankind naturally, albeit with some intervention, developed species better adapted for his/her needs and uses. The earth surrounding their houses became rich in nitrogen, generated by animal and human wastes, which enriched the earth to make it extra-perfect for agriculture.

In the ancient Land of Israel region, two types of vegetable agriculture were developed: Dry Farming – using no irrigation, only rainwater, and Irrigated Farming – assisted by irrigation channels in small square vegetable plots, sometimes within orchards among the lines of trees. Among the plots, a system of narrow channels was dug, and water from the closest springs was channeled for irrigation. A cloth rag or pile of dust served as the faucet opening and closing for the water supply. This system is very suitable to a hilly topography where gravity can be used to cause water to flow.

In the Sataf Nature Reserve, situated in the Jerusalem hills there is a vivid example of irrigation plots in the ancient agriculture system.

These ancient, wise farmers used their calloused, veiny hands and small plots to grow a large variety of crops which were suitable to the soil and climate of their villages. They used goat and sheep manure from the herds shepherded in the area to enable the rigorous growth and reuse of the soil from one season to the next and one year to the next.

Thus, in various places in the world, different types of vegetables were developed, resulting in the vast variety of vegetables we have today:

In the Mediterranean, a wide range of vegetables developed including root vegetables such as radishes, turnips, garlic, celery and onion; and such leafy vegetables as cabbage, beets, fava, asparagus, artichoke and fennel. Agriculture in this entire area contributed  a great deal of its knowledge and species to Roman agriculture, which traversed next to all of Europe where the species that manage well in winter were acclimated better in Northern Europe (beets, carrots and other roots, various leaves and the good ol’ brassicas).

In the river valleys of China, amazing agriculture developed, still somewhat able to maintain its uniqueness. The Chinese contributed other leaf species such as Chinese cabbage, mustard greens, bokchoi, totsoi, mizuna (and many other greens), the giant radish, and of course – soy and rice. They were the ones who also developed the culture of sprouting, a crop which yields within a few days and offers a wealth of vitamins and enzymes.

In the warm and rainy regions of Central and South America, warm- weather veggies were grown, specifically members of the Solanaceae family – potatoes, tomatoes, eggplant and peppers – and the gourds: various squashes and pumpkins, as well as sweet potatoes, corn and various beans.

From Africa we received melons, okra, watermelon and an abundance of fruits. From the regions of India, we gained cucumbers, black-eyed peas, as well as many types of spices, including black pepper, basil, vanilla and others.

And there you have it – only local uniqueness and disunity allowed the development of this wide variety of dozens of different vegetables from hundreds of various species. A true song of praise to the autonomous liberty to create, cultivate, grow and taste.

May we enjoy a holiday of colorful and illuminating lights, each light shining its very own hue. And Bon Appetit!

Alon, Bat Ami, Dror, Yochai, Orin and the entire Chubeza crew

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WHAT’S IN THIS WEEK’S BOXES?

Monday: Swiss chard/New Zealand spinach/kale, kohlrabi/fennel, peas/ Jerusalem artichokes/sweet potatoes, fresh onions, cucumbers, tomatoes, beets, carrots, parsley/coriendar/dill, lettuce/arugula, daikon/turnips. Free gift: mizuna.

Large box, in addition: Celery/celeriac, broccoli/cabbage/cauliflower, scallions/totsoi.

FRUIT BOXES: Red oranges, avocadoes, red apples, clementinot.

Wednesday: Swiss chard/New Zealand spinach/kale, fennel, fresh onions, cucumbers, tomatoes, beets, carrots, parsley/coriendar/dill, lettuce/arugula/green mizuna, daikon/turnips. Small boxes only: peas/Jerusalem artichokes. Free gift: red mizuna.

Large box, in addition: Celery/celeriac, broccoli/cabbage, scallions/totsoi, kohlrabi/eggplants.

FRUIT BOXES: Red oranges, avocadoes, red or green apples, clementinot/banana.