Christos Charalambous might be 79 but he is several metres up a carob tree, harvesting a fruit known as “black gold” on the island of Cyprus as his grandson works below.
For some, carob has long been relegated to the status of a less appealing substitute for chocolate.
But in Cyprus, its thick brown pods are also eaten raw or ground up to make sweet syrups, spreads, toffees, drinks and as a sweetener, while its seeds have industrial uses.
“It’s one of the fruits that you use up entirely,” Charalambous said from his field in Asgata.
Branches rustle and sway as he and his grandson, Theophanis Christou, 20, hit the pods loose with long sticks, sending carob raining to the ground.
The pair have been working for about three weeks in the late summer heat, collecting about three tonnes of carob by early September.
Christou, a shipping and finance student, is keen to join in his grandfather’s labours.
It’s “hard to do”, Christou said, but it’s “work that can keep the family together”.
In the nearby coastal village Zygi, individual growers bring bulging sacks of pods into a carob mill.
Zygi “started as a carob village” and its name refers to the weigh scale used for the fruit, said community representative Christos Konstantinou.
In Zygi and elsewhere across the eastern Mediterranean island where the carob tree is native, disused or repurposed carob facilities are reminders of the industry’s heyday last century.
“Carob has been known as the black gold of Cyprus because many farmers used to have carob... it was the main occupation of the villagers,” said Stavros Glafkou Charalambous, from the Cooperative Carob Marketing Federation.
The federation, which runs the Zygi mill and other facilities, said it works with around 1,500-2,000 small producers, most of them harvesting carob for “extra income”.
George Pattichis, 75, from Vavla, said he has been coming to the Zygi mill for more than half a century.
The former forester said some of his carob trees were planted by his grandfather.
“I am the last generation -- my children have other jobs,” said Pattichis.