Tag Archives: aceitunas

The Future is Olive

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This is an olive farm among olive farms in the very region that produces more olive oil than anywhere else in the world. As a matter of fact, much of that ‘Italian’ virgin oil comes from right here although you might need a barcode scanner or a magnifying glass to see that.

For most of the year the olive trees are basically iconic scenery, dotted lines across the bald straw coloured hillsides, left to their own devices. From now through to January they are the centre of attention.

About a month ago during one of our over the fence evening chats Fernando suggested I might want to start pruning my trees which looked like thick shrubs. He demonstrated and made it look pretty easy. Obviously when he handed me the clippers I couldn’t work out which shoot started where or cut through them even with two hands on the clippers. Just cut off anything that’s growing vertically, he said. That’s how you end up with the big open space at the centre that lets light and heat in over the winter. I now know I have 300 and something trees, and that some of them are easier to get up than down from. I’m pretty handy with a saw, my hands have changed shape – fat paddles – and are covered in callouses; my ring will be on for life.

The trees however look quite good, and when I go past an olivar that’s been neglected, my sawing and clipping hand gives a twitch. Maybe if journalism dries up this is a new career path.

On the 20th of October, two weeks ahead of schedule because of the spring drought, the conveyor belts at Nuestra Señora del Rosario co-operative olive press started rolling. Farmers have been showing up in their pick-ups to tip sacks of olives through the grates and a couple of weeks on the place now smells of squashed olives again, and will do through to January. You can drop off as little as kilo or a lorryload; price depends on quality. I often come here, not selling olives unfortunately, (according to Andalucian law this year’s crop belongs to the farmer that owned the land and tended them up to May last year) but spending cash. The co-op has a store where you can buy shovel handles, chicken wire, and cement mix, as well as cheese, water, and washing-up liquid, which is convenient. Sometimes I browse in the overalls section. Not Selfridges, but it will have to suffice.

Meanwhile Fernando and his cousin Fernando are in his fields higher up the hill bashing branches with a stick so the olives collect in the nets they’ve spread right around the base of the tree. He has around 850 trees to go. Arturo and Rosi and the in-laws are doing the same in the fields below. With the tock tock tock of wood from all directions it sounds like a jousting tournament. Not that I’ve been to a jousting tournament. Anyway, jousting, goat bells, cockerels, a lot of birds (gone wild after the rain), and barking dogs.

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Prepare Your Own Olives in Just 18 days, 9 hrs

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You know those olives you can buy ready to eat from any deli? Well, you can make them yourself for free in just 18 days and 9 hours. Ismael and his father have just spent five days harvesting most of the olives and taken the last sackload to the co-op for pressing, but I did shake and bat the olives off the old manzanilla olive tree by the bathroom. My former neighbour Mari had cornered me in Zahara the week before and asked if I’d made my aceitunas de mesa. I said I hadn’t (thinking, damn, more stuff I need to do) and she gripped my arm and gave me detailed instructions on how to do it, along with a Tupperware tub of ones she had made earlier. Mari is a keen smoker; her olives were powerful stuff.

Anyway, we collected around 25kg, which is plenty enough to go with a glass of wine. For several hours afterwards I sat in the garage while it rained and less enthusiastically sorted through them, chucking out any that looked too black or too green, then whacking the chosen ones with the base of a wine bottle to mash them up a bit. (Diego in the ferreteria had a basic machine for doing this, but he wouldn’t sell it, saying it was rubbish and a waste of money, even though I really wanted it).

What you are supposed to do at this stage depends on who you ask. You definitely have to soak them, but some say in salt water, others, just water. Some say leave them in the same water for the first three days, others say change the water every day from day 1. Some say leave them for two weeks, others for three weeks. Everyone says put a lid or a plate or something on top of the olives so they are completely submerged, which, ironically, is the one thing I forgot to do.

These are the steps I took:

  1. Changed the (unsalted) water every day for 18 days, then drained the olives, and hauled them into the kitchen to bottle them.
  2. (If you are dealing in less industrial quantities, maybe soak them in vinegar for a couple more days).
  3. Made some brine. I used litre bottles, first putting in a couple of big tablespoons of salt dissolved in boiling water, then topping the water up to just under 2/3 full. Threw in a bit of sugar, and then filled to the top with vinegar, and shook it all about.
  4. I then set about lighting a fire and boiling a couple of dozen jars six at a time, for 10 minutes of rollicking boiling, in a large pail to sterilise them, dropping in the lids at the end. (You can skip this four hour stage if you have an oven, or a dishwasher.)
  5. About this stage in the process I lost all interest in bottling olives. After all it’s not like they’re going to run out of them in Cádiz.
  6. However, I continued, and ladled in the stinking olive slosh, making sure to pack them in well, then stuck in garlic and chilli, and poured in the brine to the very, very top, and stuck on the lid. Job done.

As I say, only took 18 days and 9 hours.

Aside from present Mari with a return offering, I have no idea what to do with all this. People are sick of olives round here. I’m hoping to have a lot of guests around Christmas who regard olives as interesting and exotic. Unfortunately they’ll need to be time-travellers from 1970s Britain.

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