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With the end of the High Holidays, autumn is in full swing here in Israel. Everyone feels it — from produce lovers, like myself, bidding goodbye to the delectable sweetness of the summer’s watermelons and mangoes, to the country’s farmers harvesting this season’s new delights and preparing for the coming rains. You don’t need to pay attention to the weather to figure out that autumn is upon is; all you need to do is look out the car window.
Enormous date palms, lining the streets and highways of the country, have grown heavy with ripening dates, their fronds sagging under the weight of the bright red, golden, and tan fruit. Dates are eaten both fresh, when they are crunchy and smooth, or dried, when they are enjoyed soft, sticky, and sweet as candy.
The olive harvest is beginning, with everyone from small-time olive curers (like myself) climbing up these gorgeous, shimmering trees and shaking them till they drop their fruit, to full-on professionals utilizing time-saving mechanized gadgets to reap the harvest. The olives start out green, and as the season progresses they change to a riper purple and finally, towards winter, become plump and black. It’s not unusual to find clusters of squashed olives on sidewalks throughout the country; while they look as tasty as the morsels you find in a grocery store, don’t be fooled — they are incredibly bitter and inedible prior to curing.
The sweet and sour flavors of lemons, oranges, grapefruits, and kumquats are upon us, and the transition from the last of the summer’s harvest to fall and then winter will be complete when these citrus fruits fill the bins of the shuks. We’ll also see (and smell!) the arrival of guavas in the upcoming weeks. While it’s possible to buy some produce out of season in Israel, most Israelis stick to the seasonal, and for a practical reason — it’s cheapest. Anything out of season is imported and thus pricey.