Unusual crops

Apr 182017 Tagged with , , 0 Responses

Cork Oak – Quercus suber in Southern Portugal

Probably the one thing I love the most about Spain and Portugal is the countryside – and the Cork Oak fields.   Thousands and thousands of acres of trees stud the semi- wild fields and all of them have the tell- tale marks of cork stripping.  They’re semi-nude up to around 2.5m high and have trunks of varying colours depending upon which year their cork was harvested.  Pinky/red hued trunks = newly harvested – over the years the trunks gradually go grey and then black.

The Oaks cover the countryside and the wide canopied trees look so beautiful.  It’s such a pleasure to see land that isn’t completely just grass and it looks so completely natural.  I never get tired of driving through it.

Prior to writing this blog I did a bit of research – as you do….  never want to get facts wrong, and I came across this terrific article that you should check out.  It has a wealth of really interesting info. On the Cork Oak, history, the industry, how it’s harvested and grown, the value of cork and the varied uses for it – apart from corks for wine bottles!

Phil and I have both purchased beautiful cork wallets and if I get the chance to go shopping again… a pair of cork sneakers and a belt will be coming home too!

Please click on this safe link below and find out more about this terrific tree  – I found it really enlightening




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Apr 162017 Tagged with , , , 0 Responses

Damask Rose – Rose Oil from Morocco

As we wound our way back to Marrakech through the High Atlas Mountains, dusty mile after dusty mile.  (Actually the main roads are pretty marvellous!) we passed numerous businesss selling Rose oil products.

Ishmael, our Berber guide was an absolute boon on our trip.  He’s fluent in four languages and is a whizz at maths – if we wanted to purchase anything he  always stopped at the Women’s Co-operative stores.  He grew up in a small, but picturesque village in the mountains and though coming from a relatively wealthy family, knew only too well the difficulty women face in a male dominated world.

Every morning the women collect the tiny, tiny buds from the rose hedges that line the vegetable gardens – a laborious job.  During late April- late May – just one month of the year, the famed Damask rose blooms in the Dades Valley.  I would have loved to travel through in May when the scent from the thousands of rose bushes would have filled the valleys and villages at Rose Festival time.  It is only during this one month that the buds can be processed.  Early each morning the ladies harvest their rose buds and rush them to the Co-op as the entire process must be finished on the same day to preserve the scent and oil.

We were told it takes 4 tonnes of rose buds to make one litre of essential oil – that’s 12,000 rose buds!  That’s a lot of picking!  So next time you use rose oil, or rose water – think of the Moroccan desert and the lives of the Berber women – add another drop for good measure and buy another bottle!

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Apr 122017 Tagged with , , , , 0 Responses

Argan Oil – Women’s Co-operative

On our route back to Marrakech we stopped at several Women’s Co-operatives run by local Berber women.  Several of the Canadian women that were travelling with had made a request to our Moroccan Guide guide – the marvellous Ishmael – to find a shop for Argan Oil as it costs a small fortune in Canada and they all appeared to be using it for one thing or another – one of the co-travellers was a lawyer and a client of hers said it had even repaired her marriage whilst doing the same for her skin!

For those of you that aren’t familiar with this product – this is how it is made.

The oil is made from the Argan nut which comes from the Argania spinosa tree which is endemic to the semi- desert Sous valley of south western Morocco.  The tree can live to 200 yrs of age.  The nut (slightly smaller than an apricot) takes over a year to mature – comparable to an Avocado.  Surrounding the nut is pulpy flesh that is used as animal feed.

Argan Oil has always been a rare and precious product which has been used by Moroccan women for centuries.  In the old days the nuts were consumed by very acrobatic goats – check it out on You Tube – who climb into the trees, trip trap along the branches gobbling the nuts whole.  Once the nut has gone through the goat’s digestive system the softened nut is popped out in the goat’s dropping and duly collected.  The laborious business of extracting the kernel then takes place by crushing each one, removing the pit and then grinding this into a paste using a stone quern.  These days the goats have been dropped from the equation and the work is done by tireless Berber women.

Argan nuts are still cracked manually to ensure the delicate kernels are kept in tact making Argan Oil the most expensive edible Oil in the world.  It takes 30kg of nuts (roughly the entire annual yield of a tree) and 20 hrs of hand pressing to make just two litres of copoking oil or 1 litre of cosmetic oil!

Argan oil has a multitude of uses – cooking, scar healing, nail and hair treatment, anti inflammatory and is also supposed to aid with immunity and blood circulation.

The ladies on our tour purchased Oil, Shampoos, Excema cream, gorgeous rich honey and a blend of honey and roasted almond nuts that leaves peanut butter for dead.  The Co-operative we visited employed around 40 women and there are over 100 Co-ops – the daily wabe of these women is said to have doubled over the last few years due to the popularity of Argan Oil.  We were all very happy to come away with bulging bags of goodies and a good feeling in our hearts.

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