the price of gold
Shorkk is introducing saffron from Lebanon. In a tiny glass jar, this exquisite spice grown in the Bekaa Valley is a relatively new crop to Lebanon. Research carried out in 2003 by the American University of Beirut, has been used as part of a scheme to provide small rural communities with a profitable crop in an area of the country where employment and income are critical. The Bekaa is famous for its rich soil and agricultural produce, but as climate change affects farming communities, a crop which can survive the extreme heat and the lack of rainfall has been keenly adopted.
Luckily saffron grows well in the terrain of the Bekaa. Once planted, the corms reproduce and these bulbs can be passed on to other farmers to start up their own project. The initial corm is the “mother” bulb, and produces “daughter” bulbs, which take over once the bulb dies, to produce more saffron the following year.
harvesting by hand
The Phoenicians were responsible for bringing saffron to England, via the Cornish tin trade, according to Patience Gary in “Honey from the Weed”. So it seems only appropriate that we are now importing saffron to the UK saffron from the land of the Phoenicians. Throughout the year, Bedouin women weed the field by hand, removing rocks, so that the flower of the crocus sativus can push up through the rain-fed red clay soil in the late autumn. In late November there is a 48 hour window for harvesting to take place. Work begins early in the day, before the sun damages the petals. It is back breaking work. Careful hands collect the flowers, then later pinch out the three stigmas before the drying process, which intensifies the colour, can begin. This all has to be done on the same day. According to Caz Hidebrand, in her book The Grammar of Spice, it takes around 150,000 flowers to produce one kilogram of saffron. This represents hours of work. This is why these little pots of saffron are the price of gold
saffron harvesting in the Bekaa
These curly threads of deep red are also famed for their health benefits. Research shows that the active compounds in saffron, such as carotenoid – which accounts for its colour – could help with depression, anxiety and pre-menstrual syndrome.