Goat skins and palm trees
I love the places historical research takes me! Yesterday, I dug out a few books on food and herbs and plants in Israel, looking for this and that. I needed an idea for a scene that I hadn't done before, and there is a wealth of ideas in such books. Food at the Time of the Bible gave me pictures (I love pictures!) and all kinds of foods and recipes. One that caught my eye was a picture of a Bedouin woman kneeling beside a goatskin suspended from a wooden stand, churning milk into what would eventually (in about an hour and a half) become a type of cheese known as afiq, which, according to the book, can still be seen for sale in the markets of Old Jerusalem. Bedouin women (as seen in this photo from the Library of Congress) still churn milk this way, then pour off the cheese water - a tasty drink known as qom (I've seen this in health food stores) and press the cheese into pans to dry in the sun. This way it keeps for long periods and can be re-hydrated when so desired. The picture and description fascinated me, and I found that it fit perfectly with what came next in my story of Rachel and Leah. I know that goatskins were used for many things including tent making, water skins, and much more. But this picture was of the entire skin, its legs and neck tied off with rope to keep the milk from sloshing out. I hadn't realized how big a goatskin is in its entirety! But I suppose that's because I don't live where goats are raised.
More research led me to Herbs of the Bible where I discovered many different uses of date palm trees. I have discovered (for my own personal use) how wonderful coconut oil is as a moisturizer and replacement for butter and other oils. It even makes a great face wash! So I wondered if coconut palms grew in Israel. Unfortunately, I have yet to find any mention of them in historical context, but date palms were plenteous, especially in desert oases.
Date palms have some interesting uses. The leaves (besides being used by Christians to wave on Palm Sunday) can be woven into mats, screens, baskets, fans, and huts. The midribs can be used for fencing or roofing. The fibers are used for rope, coarse cloth, and large hats. Dried leaves are used for walking sticks, brooms, and fuel. The seeds can be used for animal food and the oil for cosmetics and soap. And those are all the parts we don't eat. The fruit, of course, is tasty all on its own. Medjool dates (with the pit) are among my favorites. They are softer than pitted ones. And the list for the fruit's uses are as varied as the recipes one can create. (This picture was one Randy took on our trip to Israel in 2008 in Megiddo.)
One of my favorite cookies is made with dates (and no other sugar). I can't seem to find the recipe right now, but perhaps will add it later.
In any case, research takes me to some fascinating places. We have a local mall that has palm trees throughout. After watching a YouTube video not long ago, and then seeing them up close, I can imagine climbing one, though I think I would need a little assistance! Imagination is good. Climbing strength - not so much.
It is also very interesting to read of all of the medicinal uses various plants had or are thought to have had in times past. Someday, in the new heaven and new earth, the leaves of the trees will be used for healing of the nations. (Rev. 22:1-3) For now, however, we can learn a lot from the things God has placed on the earth. The more science discovers the properties of foods and plants, the more amazing creation becomes in my eyes. How good of God to make so many things to aide in our earthly comfort! Life-giving water being among the most important.
But fruits, vegetables, bread, herbs, and plants were all given for our good. The more I research the past, the more I appreciate this truth.