roasted green wheat

Freekeh In The Field

Meet Salman Nijim Abu Heissam, a Druze farmer from a village in the Western Galilee. 

He is an ex-IDF officer and speaks excellent Hebrew, which was great for me because my Arabic is limited to maybe four words. Paul Nirens, owner of the Galileat organization that leads culinary tours with Druze and Christian Arabs of the Galilee, brought me to Abu Heissam’s field to see how freekeh is made.

freshly roasted green wheat freekeh

This is green durum wheat in the field. Beautiful, isn’t it?

green wheat freekeh

I was at Abu Heissam’s farm in the spring, when colorful wildflowers and herbs seed themselves and grow underfoot everywhere.  Oats, already wispy and ripe, stood thick in a plot next to the wheat field. Olive trees made a silver-green border between the fields and the road. There’s a different feeling in the energy of the Galilee. It’s the delicious fresh air; the presence of hills around you and steep roads bordered by vineyards, fields, and wild plants. A slower rhythm in the way people talk and move. It’s a place where traditional foodways are still observed and enjoyed. I was standing in a field, about to watch the ancient way of making freekeh, and I was thrilled.

Abu Heissam built up a pile of fast-burning dry thorns and heaped the green wheat on top.

“I want a fire that burns high but burns out quickly, or the wheat will burn,” he explained. “The wheat was cut down and set to dry and shrink somewhat in the field several days ago. It should come out only a little charred. ”

With a cigarette lighter, he touched a flame here and there around the pile of wheat and thorns.

“This is only a small demonstration,” he said. “When we do the real harvesting, the whole family comes out to help. We also roast green oats,” he continued, waving at the golden field behind him, “but wheat gives a bigger yield.”

freekeh bonfire wheat

It took only a few minutes for the fire to burn itself out, and for the wheat to cool down enough to handle.

bonfire dies down with freekehWe left behind any black, burnt stalks. The good wheat was toasted but still green.

roasted green wheat

Abu Heissam washed his hands with his own home-made olive oil soap. Can you imagine standing under your own olive trees that give you  fruit, oil, and soap?

water point freekehThe roasted wheat must be rubbed through several grades of sieves to force the husks and stalks off it. It’s rough work.

rubbing wheat stalks

The traditional sieves are hand-made.

traditional field sieves freekeh harvestAnd here’s freekeh. Not ready yet – it has to be winnowed to separate the chaff.

rubbed wheat freekeh

I picked some grains off the tarp and ate them. The chewy, freshly-roasted kernels taste smoky of course, but also have a certain sweetness.

freekeh

Abu Heissam winnowed, standing downwind. “This is women’s work,” he said. Not to oppose tradition, but I thought he was doing alright.

winnowing freekeh

“Wheat is our basic food,” Abu Heissam said. “We Druze can’t exist without bulgur and olive oil. King Solomon sat on a throne with a lion to the left and to the right; likewise, we store bulgur and olive oil, enough of each for two years. We ex-army Druze have our government pensions and benefits. But we pay for the food we eat with the money we make from farming the land.”

freekeh

This is part 3 of a three-part series on freekeh. To read about freekeh’s origins, click on part 1, here. For two freekeh recipes, click part 2, here.

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