Saturday, November 08, 2008

Olive Oil

Last week as I was on my way to work, I saw a woman harvesting olives just outside the industrial zone, which borders an Arab village:

Woman harvesting olives

Since I’ve gotten more serious about soapmaking, it’s become important to me to find a source of good-quality olive oil at a decent price. My latest quest developed into quite a story.

It started last week in the local market. I saw olive oil for lighting purposes on display for what seemed like a reasonable price—neither too high nor too low for that type of oil—so I decided to buy some. (I’ve used it before with good results.) I took it home and made a soap batch out of it, and got a lesson in caveat emptor (let the buyer beware).

A little background about soapmaking is in order here. When one makes soap with oils that are hard at room temperature, such as palm oil or coconut oil (and, of course, cocoa butter, which is rock-hard at room temperature), the finished soap will harden fairly quickly. When one makes soap with oils that are liquid at room temperature, such as olive oil and castor oil, the soap will take a bit longer to harden, but eventually it will.

This stuff... fuggedaboutit. If it were one hundred percent olive oil, within several days it should be soft but solid. But after almost a week, it’s still an unusable rectangular mass of mush.

The olive oil was adulterated, of course. Unfortunately, that’s a common enough problem here.

So I brought back the bottles of oil that I hadn’t opened yet and was able to trade them, in a less-than-satisfactory transaction, for oil of better quality. (I had no real choice in the matter, since many store owners here refuse to give cash refunds. But rest assured that I will be contacting the consumer protection authority.)

Then, it just happened that yesterday morning I saw an ad on a local email list for fresh-pressed olive oil... eighteen liters at a reasonable price. Since I had been given a gift of this oil last year (and had made great soap out of it), I jumped at the chance to buy more.

On the bus ride back, I sat facing an older man who was wearing the most fascinating silver ring I have ever seen. The thick silver wires that held its large, oblong white stone in place made the piece look as though it were alive. It was clear to me that whoever had made the ring was a craftsman who loved his work, and despite my desire to behave with good manners, I couldn’t take my eyes off it. Finally I asked the man whether he had made it himself.

He answered in Russian-accented Hebrew that he had, and added with a smile, “It’s nice that you notice these things.”

So we began a conversation, craftsperson to craftsperson. He asked me a little about soapmaking and explained a little about jewelry-making, mentioning that he gives lessons. (Oh, I would so love to learn. When I told him so, he said, “It’s never too late,” and added that the price of silver is currently low.) He mentioned that he also cooks and is looking for good-quality olive oil, so I gave him the number of the man who had just sold me the large container that was now on the floor between our feet.

Connections. I love connections.

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