Kishk: The Season Starts South
By: Kamel Jaber
Published Wednesday, July 11, 2012
This year housewives in South Lebanon were earlier than those in Baalbek and Hermel in preparing the local kishk – a powdery cereal of burghul (cracked wheat) fermented with milk and yogurt.
The name of the product is always adjoined to the name of the area where it is produced, such as Bekaa kishk, southern kishk, Baalbek kishk, Hermel kishk, and so on.
At the beginning of last month, women all over South Lebanon were preoccupied with preparing their kishk, taking advantage of the summer heat that helps dry the mix.
Umm Fadi Hamza from Kfar Rouman has prepared more than 60 kilograms of ground local kishk already this year. She is currently mixing another 10 kilograms “because I had a surplus of yogurt from my son’s farm and I don’t want it to go to waste.”
Housewives do not only prepare provisions of kishk for their own households. Recently, they have started selling it too.
“A number of friends and neighbors have gotten used to getting their kishk provisions from me for 15,000 Lebanese Lira (LL) ($10) per kilogram of kishk ready for storage,” says Umm Fadi.
Explaining the preparation method, she says: “I put one bucket (two and half kilograms) of yogurt for every five kilograms of burghul. Then I add three more buckets of yogurt that I have turned into Labneh (strained yogurt), and I knead the mix more than once a day to help it congeal.”
The mixture needs four days to ferment and “five days in the sun to dry, that is of course after I spread it on a piece of nylon to reduce its density. It might need an extra day or two depending on whether the climate is sunny and hot or cloudy.”
The drier it gets, “the more I rub it between my hands until it is completely dry and has the same consistency of burghul but saturated with yogurt and ready for grinding,” explains Umm Fadi.
There are mills especially for grinding kishk in Kfar Rouman. They charge LL1,500 ($1) for every kilogram ground.
These mills have made the kishk-making process that used to take hours and days much easier.
Umm Fadi remembers her mother when “she used to make me and my five sisters crumble the dry kishk, then grind it in the chickpea grinder, then sift it. My hands would swell up from crumbling and grinding it.”
Some women add hot pepper pods to their own kishk for a special flavor.
Umm Fadi has heard about the Baalbek kishk but says she has never tried it, adding: “I hear it is more sour. My sister, who displays southern kishk at the Ardi (My Land) exhibition, told me that the Baalbek kishk has its own customers and southern kishk has its customers as well. As far as I know, our pastures are rich and so is our yogurt.”
The cost of making one kilogram of local kishk is LL12,000 ($8), “LL9,000 ($6) of which is the price of a bucket of yogurt, LL1,500 ($1) is the price of a kilogram of burghul, and the rest is how much the mill charges,” says Umm Fadi.
As to why she sells a kilogram of her produce for a price that barely covers her effort, she says “We get the yogurt from our farm and the burghul from our fields. Both products are readily available and abundant so we make low profits, but we sell a lot.”
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.