Grape molasses making process defies challenges in Aleppo countryside
Enab Baladi – Abdul Salam Majan
With the early morning hours, Hajj Mohammed Ali Othman, a resident of Dodyan village of northern Aleppo countryside, starts his day working in the antique grapes press, which he owns.
Hajj Mohammed told Enab Baladi that his antique press still has its old tools used to make grape molasses, or what is known locally as “the honey of the poor.”
The making of the grape molasses is considered one of the age-old inherited industries over generations in northern Aleppo, due to the existence of vast areas of lands with grapevines there.
Besides, grape molasses is a famous popular food because of its sweet taste and high nutritional value.
The grape molasses making season extends from September to the first days of October of every year, which is also the grapes harvesting season.
According to Hajj Mohammed, Dodyan is one of the oldest and most famous villages in the grape molasses making profession. The village has a large number of grape presses, but currently, it has only two working presses, one of which belongs to Hajj Mohammed and has an age of more than one hundred years.
Harvesting, pressing, then cooking… stages of making grape molasses
The making of grape molasses goes through several stages, starting with harvesting the vineyards and transporting the crops to the grape press.
The grapes are pressed by an antique pressing tool, then the grapes’ juice of the pressing process is moved for filtration. After that, the filtered grape juice is transferred through tubes into a big pot for cooking.
The extracted grape juice is cooked in boiling containers powered by diesel. Finally, the thick syrup is moved from the containers to different sized bottles depending on the marketing need or the product’s preservation method.
Soaring prices and limited grapes cultivation… challenges facing grape molasses making
The grape molasses making process faces several challenges, including high prices, as every kilo of grape molasses needs fuel worth 1,000 Syrian pounds (SYP = 0.442 US cents); therefore, the high price of fuel leads to the rise in the price of the molasses, according to Hajj Mohammed.
The making process of grape molasses also suffers from the failure of marketing products in the region, which is blocked in conjunction with the closure of border crossings preventing entrance and exiting from them, especially after the preventive measures of the novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
This year, the grape molasses prices increased significantly, as the price of one kilo reached about 4,000 SYP (1.85 USD), at the exchange rate of 1 USD = 2,160 Syrian pounds, while in 2019, its price was 1300 SYP (0.60 US cents).
The decline in grape cultivation has led to a decrease in grape molasses production, as the vineyards areas reduced significantly in recent years.
This decline in grape cultivation is due to several reasons, according to agricultural engineer Riyad al-Jaddou, who said to Enab Baladi that in the past ten years, farmers have been heading toward crops with good economic returns at the expense of grape cultivation.
Al-Jaddou said, sometimes, the grapevines were uprooted and replaced with pistachio trees because they give greater returns or persimmon trees as in the north-western Harem area in Idlib, which was famous for grapes cultivation.
Besides, seedlings of grapevines grafted with phylloxera pest-resistance varieties, the biggest illness affecting grapevines, are not available, which causes large areas to be outside production.
According to al-Jaddou, grape grafting was done with anti-phylloxera pest French seeds.
Most of the region’s vineyards depend on rainfalls, for they are non-irrigated lands, and the decline in the rainfall in recent years has caused a decline in the productivity of the vineyards.
As for the irrigated fields, their production also decreased due to the high cost and sometimes low availability of fuels, in addition to the soaring prices of pesticides and fertilizers used in the vineyards.
The grapevine production rate had declined significantly, as it produced years before 45 kilograms of grapes, while one-dunum of about 60 grapevines produced almost three tons.
Currently, the production of one donum of grapevines is no more than one ton and 750 kilograms.
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