Aley Chubeza #19 – Shavuot, May 17-20 2010

Pre-Shavuot Messages:

Once again, let me remind you that you can order sprouted spelt bread from Yiftah, who bakes next week. Yiftah bakes his bread every two weeks. For full details, press here.

Gili from Kibbutz Samar has informed me that she will be able to send us another stock (albeit limited) of Brahi dates. The 5-kilogram packages of Brahi dates sell for 90 NIS. Those of you who already ordered will receive an email soon informing you of the exact delivery times (probably next week.) Further orders must be made ASAP due to the limited stock. If you ordered but do not receive an email soon, please let me know.

Reminder: This week’s Wednesday orders will be delivered on Thursday, May 20th.


R. Judah said: It [the forbidden tree] was the wheat plant, for an infant cannot say ‘father’ and ‘mother’ until it has tasted of wheat.

(Sanhedrin, 70b)

In honor of Shavuot, my younger daughter, Shachar, was requested to bring a festive fruit basket to her nursery. As a devoted mother, I started preparing it immediately. I remembered we had golden stalks of grain growing at the edge of our backyard, and I’d eyed them all winter with the thought of using them for Shavuot. I went out to the yard and found golden, though blighted, stalks, and when I tried to pick them I discovered why: every little movement of the ripe stalk made it fall apart and disintegrate. Remembering the strong and beautiful stalks that decorated our kibbutz dining hall of my childhood, I figured the stalks in my backyard were simply too weak. But when I read up on wheat in preparation for this newsletter, I learned to admire the wisdom of the wild wheat in my backyard, as well as the patience and devotion of the first farmers who domesticated it over 10,000 years ago.

Farming is a relatively new phenomenon in the history of human culture, commencing some 10,000 years ago, when man switched from hunting and gathering his food in the wild to a deliberate growing of plants and animals he chose from nature. This era is considered to be an important turning point in the progress of man, leading to permanent settlement, to the development of writing and to a political structure. Without exaggeration, it is probably the cradle of our culture. Wheat is one of the first things man learned to grow. He selected the wheat from the wild and turned it into an agricultural growth, to a domesticated plant. Wild wheat, the mother wheat, is the origin of all domesticated wheat grown today, and is still common in wide areas of the Land of Israel and its environs. We know many of the domesticated plants grown by man that still exist in their wild form. Just as there is a wild plum and domesticated plum or wild and domesticated carrots, or wild and domesticated fennel, there is also wild and domesticated wheat. The wheat grows wild in the upper and lower Galilee, in the Carmel, the Gilboa, Judea and Samaria. It is dispersed from the north of Israel and Lebanon all the way to western Iran and Iraq.

The “mother wheat” was discovered by Aharon Aharonson, of the famous Aharonson family from Zikhron Ya’akov, who was an agronomist, botanist and geologist. In 1906, Aharon went on a journey in search of wild wheat. He embarked on this search because of one dried plant that was picked at the slope of Mount Hermon and had been preserved in a university in Germany for over 50 years, with no information as to its origins. After a long search, he found the first stalk of wild wheat on a mountainside in Rosh Pina. Afterwards, he found it growing in other places in Israel as well.

Aharonson was surprised to learn that the wild wheat is very similar to domesticated wheat, and thus wrote in his journal, “My doubts arose especially when I saw the fine development of the stalks and grains. I never imagined that the wheat prototype would so closely resemble our domesticated wheat, bearing grains that would satisfy any modern farmer. But actually, if it weren’t so, prehistoric man would never have noticed this wheat, and probably wouldn’t have attributed so much importance to it.”

Here is a picture of both: the wild wheat is on the right, the domesticated to the left. You be the judge:

wheat wild and domestic

But if the wild wheat is so satisfactory, why domesticate it? Why not just gather it wild in the field? The wild wheat is very similar to the domesticated, but there are still critical differences between them: the wild wheat which grows in the field has properties beneficial for the plant, but disadvantageous for man and farmer: after the grains of the wild wheat fill and ripen, the axle of the stalk (the stem in its center) breaks, and it falls apart into small units. For the wild plant this is an advantage: the small units are scattered in the area, and some of them, at least, survive over summer to grow during the next rainy season. But just imagine the frustration of past collectors (or present devoted mothers) who picked sheaths of wheat and took them home–and by the time they reached the door, the stalks had broken and fallen apart, leaving only a dry and grain-less stem to grasp. Another property that differentiates wild wheat from the domesticated version is that its grains are wrapped in a rigid shell-like skin and other wrappings, and are very hard to hull and separate. Thus, the grains are protected from heat and dryness, as well as pests and animals. But the reapers had to work extra hard to separate the wheat from the chaff, or to grind them without separating them and try to eat them this way.

Man wished to develop wheat that was suitable for his needs, therefore he selected and sowed only seeds from the stalks whose seeds stayed in place for long. Over thousands of years of sorting and sowing, the farmer achieved a new species that could only be separated from the plant by movement, beating and knocking, or what we call today “threshing.” Thus, man turned wild weeds into domesticated wheat, whose scientific name is Triticum from the word Tritum, Latin for “to rub, wear out.” Also, in the process of threshing, the grains are hulled from the chaff with ease.

Domesticated wheat has additional agricultural advantages as well, which have made it a fundamental component of human nutrition. Wild wheat is popular in limited places in the Near East, which fortunately for us include Israel. Domesticated wheat, however, can grow in extended areas throughout all the continents: Europe, Asia, North America, South America and Australia. There is also a great difference between the volume of yield of domesticated and wild wheat: domesticated wheat produces a large yield of produce, because each stalk consists of many large grains.

If the domesticated “bread wheat” grew wild in nature, it would never survive: the stalks would fall on the ground without disassembling, and the seeds would not scatter and hide among the clods of earth. In such a situation, it is most likely that animals (mice, ants and other wheat-destroyers) would find the stalks easily and consume the grains. The domesticated wheat is able to survive only because man grows it in cultivated fields, waters and fertilizes the earth, and eliminates pests.

When Aharon Aharonson discovered the mother wheat, he believed his discovery could be used to improve domesticated wheat. And he was right. In the process of wheat domestication, some important properties were lost, like its durability in the face of diseases and dryness, as well as a higher nutritional value of the wheat grains. This last attribute is the result of a natural process that takes place at the end of the growing season, when the plant dies and the nutritional materials that accumulated in the leaves and stems move to the grains in order to ensure the continuity of the next generation. This process, which takes place in a very efficient and speedy manner in the wild wheat, makes for a high quantity of protein and minerals in the wild grain.

Recently, a crew of Israeli and Californian scientists discovered the gene that is responsible for the efficiency and speed of this process, and scientists hope that deciphering the genetic continuum will allow additional enhancements of the wheat by genetic engineering and making it compatible to other realms of growth.

For those who are interested, here is a link to a short film with one of the leading professors in this research, Professor Tzion Fachima of Haifa University.

There are three types of wheat in agricultural growth: Bread Wheat (T. aestivum) which is the basis for bread, cakes and beer from its various species, Durum Wheat (T. Durum), a hard species used for pastas (as well as semolina and bulgur), and lastly, Spelt Wheat (T. Spelta) which is considered by many to be the most preferred in terms of nutrition. Spelt is currently gaining popularity; being used for everything from bread, crackers, pasta, beer, gin, vodka and even Matzah.

wheat field

In a beautiful and insightful article, Nissim Krispil writes about wheat, “The golden ripe grains swaying with the wind, which for modern man symbolizes peace and quiet, was considered in medieval times to conceal within it fears and evil spirits. The wheat harvest expressed a battle against this evil spirit. The last sheaf harvested was the center of many rituals in various cultures. In some of the falach villages in Israel, it is customary to weave the stalks of the last sheath with colorful threads of wool and term it Birkhat El Khasida (the blessing of harvest.) It is also customary to hang it in the wheat silo or on the walls of a house as a folk amulet against the evil eye.”

May we all enjoy a happy harvest holiday, may we triumph in our battles against the evil eye, and may we bring to our homes harmony and peace and the savor of grains and renewal. Alon, Bat Ami and the Chubeza team


This week’s harvest basket includes:

Monday: cucumbers & fakus, zucchini & squash, potatoes, Swiss chard / New Zealand spinach, tomatoes, celeriac, cilantro/parsley, lettuce, red beets, green onions, corn (not from our field yet, but “Bikurim” from Ein HaBsor)

In the large box, in addition:  green cabbage, small potatoes, garlic

Wednesday:  basil, cucumbers & fakus, zucchini & squash, potatoes, Swiss chard, iceberg or Romaine lettuce, red beets, tomatoes, carrots, dill, small boxes: celeriac/green onions.

In the large box, in addition: parsley/cilantro, small potatoes/yellow beans, green onions, celeriac


Holiday Recipes, Vegetables and Grains

First, a hearty salute to flour, festivity and pioneering:

Chocolate Zucchini Bread (it’s actually a cake!), from Cherie’s Grandmother’s Pioneers of Alaska Cookbook, 1988


3  eggs 1  cup oil 2  cups brown sugar 3  T. vanilla 3  cups grated zucchini w/peel 1/2  cup cocoa 4  cups flour (can use 1/2 whole wheat flour too) 1 t. salt 1  t. baking soda ¼  t. baking powder 1/2  cup chopped walnuts

– Mix dry ingredients together. In another bowl, beat together the oil and sugar until light; add vanilla. Beat in eggs one at a time. Add zucchini, then add the dry ingredients and mix until blended. Mix the nuts into the batter with a spoon. Pour into two well-greased and floured loaf pans and bake at 180 for 50-55 minutes.

And in honor of the Shavuot Festival: Swiss Chard Strudel Swiss chard and goat cheese quiche

And in honor of potatoes (and the Shavuot Festival together): Ricotta Gnocchi