Hi everyone! I know it’s been a while since I’ve updated, one more week of classes at the Bourghuiba School and then I’ll start preparing for the dreaded two-day exam. Five hours of straight studying every morning is usually followed by a nap in the afternoon and then a few hours of revision in the evening, which doesn’t leave me much time for exploring Tunis. I’m ok with that though because I can see how far I’ve come in two short months.
I’ve just returned from a short trip to Kerkennah where I was recooperating from a nasty cold and visiting Mansour’s grandparents. The first time I met my husband we shared a bus ride together during which he told me with great passion about his wonderful grandmother who I really must meet. Well, since that time I’ve spent days and weeks in her home and witnessed the simple, traditional life that Kerkennah offers. For example, last autumn I helped them harvest olives from their land. I was later given a small jug of silky, heavenly olive oil which had been created the traditional way, with his grandmother’s feet. Summer is right around the corner which means it’s time to harvest the expansive wheat fields. The final product will be zanmit, eaten in the morning; malthouth, which is similar to couscous; and chish, a grain for soup.
Everything coming out of Khadija’s kitchen is made from scratch. From what I’ve seen it is hard work! A full-time job. I find myself drawn to this lifestyle of taking from the land, working hard and eating well.
So, here are your basic procedures for harvesting wheat in Kerkennah which I’ve gathered from conversations with Khadija translated into English by Mansour, so most likely it isn’t 100% accurate:
The first step starts here. His grandparents get up early in the morning before the sunrises to pick the wheat from the field by hand. As you can see, sometimes they recruit family to help. The wheat is then stored at the house in a dry place until a large enough quantity has been collected. This step may take a few weeks depending on how many pairs of hands you have to help you.
After that, a tractor is rented for plowing. In the past camels were used for this step, and donkeys are also useful. Next, (and this is the part I’m not exactly clear on) the stalks are tossed up into the air to seperate the wheat for people from the discarded parts for animals. Finally, the human food is cooked, milled and stored for year-long use.
Seeing the process required to make food makes me much more appreciative of all the delicious dishes I’ve enjoyed here. Tunisian cuisine is seasonal and resourceful, though I can’t say it is the healthiest in the world – all my meals seem to revolve around CARBS: couscous with bread, rice with bread, pasta with, you guessed it … bread. Still, every time I return from a weekend in Kerkennah with a few added kilos and no room in my stomach for dinner, I count myself lucky to have a superhuman Tunisian grandmother like Khadija!