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Almond joy, it’s Tu Bishvat time

Branch out and climb a tree, chew on a carob pod, or frolic in an orchard for the Jewish Arbor Day

Jessica Steinberg covers the Sabra scene from south to north and back to the center.

The almond tree is blooming, especially on Tu Bishvat (photo credit: Nati Shohat/Flash90)
The almond tree is blooming, especially on Tu Bishvat (photo credit: Nati Shohat/Flash90)

As the song goes, “Tu Bishvat is here, a holiday for the trees,” and indeed, that tree-centric holiday arrives this Saturday, January 26, just when we’re all hankering for a reason to celebrate. Of course, the signs of Israel’s nature day have been apparent for weeks, most notably in plastic containers of dried fruit (much of it imported from Turkey) lining the shelves in the supermarket.

Nevertheless, you have to be charmed by a day that celebrates trees, particularly in Jerusalem whose firs and oaks were decimated by the recent week of fierce winds and snow. During walks around our neighborhood, my kids stop frequently to wrap their arms around particularly wide trunks or to admire the white exterior of a favorite beech. And what could be better than climbing local trees, given that we have many that are low enough to encourage small clamberers?

Still, you may be seeking other ways to celebrate this annual tree appreciation day, and we’ve found five ways to do so:

An Atlantic pistachio (Courtesy Flowers in Israel)
An Atlantic pistachio (photo credit: Courtesy Flowers in Israel)

1) Tree expert Yaakov Shkolnik, whom we heard from last when he showed us his favorite Christmas trees in Israel, beckons us to visit his three favorite trees in the whole country. There’s the lemon scented gum (also known as a eucalyptus) tree in Petah Tikva, which we mentioned last time, but what I didn’t know is that this is the surviving tree of a pair, a particularly beautiful specimen. His second fave is an Atlantic pistachio in the Kedesh Valley in the upper Galilee, right near Kibbutz Malkia, a huge specimen that is impressive for its size. Israeli trees aren’t overly tall, commented Shkolnik, but trunks can “be huge,” he said, and this one has a leaf spread that can easily fit 70 people in its shade. It’s in a grove of KKL-groomed pistachio trees off of Road 899, which leads from Malkia to the Nabi Yusha police station, with a parking lot located right under the grove of trees. But his absolute favorite is a very old Syrian juniper growing on Mount Hermon. Junipers grow slowly, particularly in an area like the Hermon where the winters and summers are harsh, commented Shkolnik, but the trunk of these junipers are “huge.” You can see them for yourselves if you make your way to the Ar’ar Stream in Neve Ativ on the Hermon, alongside which the junipers flourish.

2) Head to the Cinematheque for the now-annual screening of old film footage from Keren Kayemet L’Yisrael about bygone Tu Bishvat celebrations. The films were taken in the heyday of KKL-JNF’s tree-planting days, offering a glimpse of what the Negev, Jezreel Valley, Hevel Adulam, the Hula Valley, Eilat and other areas of the country looked like, way back when.

  • Sderot Cinematheque, Thursday, January 24, 7:30 p.m.
  • Jerusalem Cinematheque, Sunday, January 27, 7 p.m.
  • Rosh Pina Cinematheque, Monday, January 28, 8 p.m.
  • Holon Cinematheque, Tuesday, January 29, 8:30 p.m.
  • Haifa Cinematheque, Wednesday, January 30, 7 p.m.
  • Ein Harod, Saturday, February 2, 11 am
Picking the dates that will be dried, eaten fresh, stuffed with walnuts, squeezed into silan honey (photo credit: Wissam Nassar/Flash 90)
Picking dates that will be dried, eaten fresh, stuffed with walnuts or squeezed into silan honey (photo credit: Wissam Nassar/Flash90)

3) On the dried fruit front, food blogger Katherine Martinelli, who lives in Beersheba and writes about her discoveries of Israeli and Middle Eastern delicacies, likes to “look beyond dessert” when cooking with dried fruits. Right now she’s thinking about slow cooking dried apricots and prunes with chicken or beer for a “tagine-like, sweet and savory dish” that she’ll serve with couscous. She also throws dried fruits and nuts into green salads dressed with a homemade pomegranate vinaigrette. Finally, sweet, sticky medjool dates “have seemingly endless applications” — she chops them up and adds them to smoothies, yogurt (along with silan honey), grain salads, chicken dishes, and her favorite, British style sticky date pudding.

Homemade fruit rollup (Courtesy
Homemade fruit roll-up (photo credit: Courtesy

4) I’ve found another method of eating dried fruit that’s proven to be a hit for many members of our clan, particularly since it uses up slightly aging, soft fruit (or those leftover slices of apples and pears that didn’t get eaten and are browning in the fridge). It’s DIY fruit roll-up, a quick process of blending the fruit with a little bit of honey or sugar, then spreading it into a thinnish layer on a cookie sheet, on top of a silicon baking sheet or baking paper. As this recipe shows, it’s best to leave the fruit drying in an oven set to its lowest temperature for several hours, but if you decide to do it overnight, turn the oven off and then on again in the morning if it’s not completely dry, so as to avoid over-drying the fruit roll up, as I did several times. Your little peeps will be amazed, and I like eating it as well.

Follow the path of the Guvrin stream by the new saplings planted alongside (Courtesy Yaakov Shkolnik)
Follow the path of the Guvrin stream by the new saplings planted alongside (photo credit: Courtesy Yaakov Shkolnik)

5) You can go plant your own tree, or you can see an orchard in development out near Nehusha, a community past Beit Shemesh, just south of Beit Guvrin. Built near the banks of the Guvrin stream, KKL was planning a fruit orchard when community members asked if they could help out, and they’ve been helping plant and nurture it for the last few years. To get there, take the dirt road just south of Route 35 and follow the blue signs to the river and the pine nut trail, as it’s called. The river runs parallel to this road, and the orchard is located 300 meters from the dirt road. Walk a little further, about 400 meters east of the orchard, to an ancient well, and another 250 meters father to a natural pool that’s usually filled with clear water at this time of year.

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