Taste of my childhood … in Tunisia

One enjoyable aspect of life in Tunisia is that their heritage of rural life has not been lost. It’s all around to eplore. So, on  Sunday, with Amine from Bin el Widyen (who organised the trip) and Mounir from CMAM

briefing

.. spent the day out on Jebel Sidi Zid (mid-way between Mornag, Hammamet and Zagouan).  It’s a neglected area of mountains / valley / fields where a short stroll reveals traces of different aspects of Tunisian history: roman ruins,

Forwards towards the past

Roman arches

abandoned colonial farm,

Colonial house

Entering colonial housea mausoleum, with the messages written in henna. Interestingly some include phone numbers. Not sure what would happen if the saint wanted to intercede: would he have credit for TunisieTelecom?

mausoleum the rich farming landscape,with acres of grapes, olives and fruit., and stunning views across towards Zagouan (which is experiencing a massive rainstorm as we bask in the sunlight).

sidi zid 3outside mausoleumGreat visit: informed by local guides from this community who take you places no-one else even imagined.  They led us to a network of extraordinary prehistoric tombs all dug out under one huge rock.: a dug-out dolmen residential complex.

Entrance to the main tomb

The doorway to the final resting place

Inside the tomb

View into the spare tomb

Late afternoon, we lunch among the olive trees, prepared by a Berber family who migrated there from the south some years back, and who live off the land using traditional techniques. No electricity or running water, but a fabulous view. This is ‘slocal’ food: slow cooking, locally sourced.

sid zid 4couscous green matcoucous lunchAlmost nothing from outside a 3 kilometre radius. Chicken: tough and tasty (better than tender and bland); wild thistle / cardoons. Couscous from wheat grown on the field nearby.  Ground using a traditional mill, made of stone from Gafsa that, uniquely, leaves no rock residue in the flour.

grinding ; offer of fingerThe photo above includes Mounir,  who has ten good fingers,  being given advice on technique from Amine, whose blood-stained bandage indicates a man who is lucky to have more than nine.

Then, the final flourish: a tray of warm beestings, thick like cheese.

Beesting: the first milk after birthing

So, here we are, out in the middle of nowhere, and I’m having a flashback to childhood, triggered by the taste of beestings. I haven’t tasted this for 50 years – not since we spent out holidays in Whitsend Cottage near Ennerdale in the Lake District. Maggie the farmhand, beefy arms like a butcher, used to deliver it warm from the cow’s udders. Beestings: the first milk of the cow after she has calved.I seek more information…

Beestings: more technically known as colostrum. Crucial for newborn farm animals, contains antibodies, other bioactive molecules including growth factors; a nutritional swaddling cloth, wraps the newborn in goodness. For humans, it had the added value of being lower in fat and higher in protein than ordinary milk. I find the it’s popular with athletes.. not least because it prevents ‘runners trots’ (oxymoron!). But that they are embarrassed to admit that the steal the goodness from the mouths of suckling calves. One weightlifter, accused of ‘imbibing beestings’ responded with outrage: “I’m a normal person who eats normal food … Stop making me sound like a colostrum drinking freak!”

Well, there were 15 ‘colostrum-eating freaks’ out at Jebel Sidi Zid yesterday, and nobody seemed embarrassed.  Tunisian adventures in transition involve going backwards to the past.

whole group

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