Cyprus – spectacular scenery
We landed in sunny Cyprus in the middle of the corona virus pandemic.
Our group all had negative virus tests, and had to fill in a fit to fly certificate. As a belt and braces measure we were tested again unexpectedly at the airport. Having a sharp stick shoved up my nose on arrival wasn’t quite the start to my trip I was expecting!
We were staying in the charming rural village of Pano Lefkara. This small village once had hundreds of inhabitants but now has only about 130 permanent citizens. In normal circumstances these numbers are boosted by tourism. Visitors come to see the famous Lefkara lace and the beautiful jewellery made by the local artisan silver smiths.
We were able to contribute to the local economy by visiting a different restaurant every night and sampling the fabulous local food. Grilled Halloumi, lots of souvlaki and many types of black sausage and other meats were consumed. We also drank copious amounts of delicious local wine. Followed by a few shots of the local spirit Zivania, made from grape pomace and dry wine.
Ziviania is rather like Italian Grappa and extremely strong. In high spirits we drank quite a lot of Zivania without heed to the consequences! We were a bit more careful with our consumption of it after that.
Picking Olives in Cyprus
We were here on an ‘Olive Almonds and Wild Food’ course hosted by the Grampus Green Village project and the Kato Drys Community Council.
I was really looking forward to the olive picking and the making of the olive oil and I wasn’t disappointed. The weather in Cyprus is perfect in the Autumn. It is cooler in the evenings but rises into the mid 20’s during the day.
Traditionally, picking olives is done by hand using a handheld ‘comb’ which looks like a mini rake. The rakes are ideal for the lower branches but not much use for the top ones unless you have extremely long arms.
Some mechanical help with the higher branches is required. Enter the long-handled reciprocating finger! Connected to the car battery, the reciprocator spins two plastic stars at high speed and flicks the olives from the branches. They fall onto nets spread out under the tree.
Using this tool is quite physically demanding as you work with your arms above your head. It’s great fun for a little while though, although you may be shot by a high speed olive if you are not careful.
Awesome olive trees
Olive trees are an ancient species and can live for hundreds or even thousands of years. The best olives are Frankish olives. We collected our Frankish olives from some magnificent trees close to the village of Kato Drys. The Mayor was in charge of harvesting this little olive grove – he was a whiz with the reciprocating finger.
Our merry band picked an impressive 157 kilograms of olives in total. We piled them into large plastic buckets and picked off the twigs and leaves. We then delivered them to the pressing mill and were able to watch the pressing process from start to finish. It is so satisfying to see how things are made from scratch. Olive oil is great for heart health and is a staple in the Mediterranean diet.
Almond picking in Cyprus
Picking almonds requires a different approach. The nuts are this time agitated from the tree by an extremely long bendy stick! The sticks we used to do this must have been 20 feet long and were made of Mulberry wood. Apparently bamboo is also a good choice for this activity.
Nets around the base of the tree catch your nuts. You poke your stick up into the branches and move it vigorously from side to side. This is a great core and upper arm workout. However being able to guide your stick to exactly where the almonds are and knock them down is not an easy task.
After much stick waving, we successfully collected a few crates of lovely almonds to take back for our almond event the next day.
On almond day we met people from the village and the other students who were on another course, to celebrate all things almond. We learned from the village almond expert how to plant them and grow them to best effect. Some almonds are bitter ones and they are poisonous in large quantities. They produce cyanide and can make you quite poorly even if you only eat a few…
We ate delicious peppers stuffed with almond and chicken and consumed almond sweets and almond drinks. We even planted a few almonds in starter pots to transplant later.
Almonds have a myriad of benefits. These nuts are highly nutritious and almond oil is useful in many skin and hair products.
Cyprus silver is not quite as famous as its lace, but it is equally beautiful. In the village of Pano Lefkara there used to be sixty silver smiths working but now there are only three. The silversmith has piles of little molds each with a different relief pattern to create a beautiful silver piece.
After the molds are filled with silver they are fired in a kiln. Each individual small piece wedges into a kind of little tree holder. Then they are pressure washed and polished. This is a labour intensive process which produces a high quality product. I bought a silver fox ring and a beautiful Aphrodite pendant. There were many designs including little silver pomegranates. Cyprus is full of pomegranate trees.
Wild foods in Cyprus
We spent a couple of days driving up into the beautiful mountains of Cyprus including the famous Troodos Mountains, home to some very ancient forest. One tree was actually 2,000 years old! I hugged one that was about 900 years old. It deserved a hug for surviving that long.
We learnt which berries were edible. Myrtle and mosphillo, koucounia, strawberry trees, and capers and their stems.
Koucounia berries featured heavily in the super biscuit/crackers which we made with Panayiota on our baking day. These were my favourite, very crunchy indeed. We made olive and onion bread as well as Halloumi bread. All quite irresistible straight from the oven!
Grampus Heritage and Training Ltd is a non-profit making organisation based in the North West of England. The company is involved in the management and promotion of European projects concerned with culture, heritage, archaeology and the environment. There are some fantastic opportunities for fully funded cultural courses for students and teachers. Check out their website here