Tag Archives: Olives


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I’m now a signed up socio, along with around 700 other local farmers, of Nuestra Señora del Rosario cooperative olive mill. It’s a great Heath Robinson type affair, and since taking these pictures has once again become the bustling centre of all activity, lorries and vans getting all snarled up around the entrance gates, much back-slapping and high-fiving, and catching up. I’ve sent around 600kg of olives up the conveyor belt so far, but have around another 1400 kgs to pick. So I’d better get on.


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 here although there are brands that are shy to share that information.

For most of the year the olive trees are the 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.

During one of our over the fence evening conversations Fernando suggested I should start pruning my trees which looked like thick shrubs. He came across and demonstrated and made it look easy. When he handed me the clippers I found it was hard to know which shoot started where and I struggled to cut through them, even with two hands on the clippers. Cut off anything that grows vertically, he says. That’s how you end up with an open space at the centre that lets in light and heat over the winter. I now know I have around 400 trees, and that some of them are easier to get up than down from. I’m 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 are looking quite good. When I go past a neglected olivar, my sawing and clipping hand gives a twitch. It could be 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 olive press co-operativa began rolling. Farmers began showing up in their pick-ups to tip sacks of olives through the grates and now the place smells of squashed olives again. This year, the former owner of the farm has the right to harvest the olives because he tended them up until May. So I don’t come here to sell but to buy. The co-operativa has a store selling shovel handles, chicken wire, and cement mix, as well as cheese, water, and washing-up liquid. I used to buy clothes, now I come here for new overalls.

Fernando and his cousin Fernando are in his fields above me bashing the trees with sticks, knocking olives into the nets spread out below. In the fields below, Arturo and his family are doing the same.  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, birds wildly animated after the rain and barking dogs is what I hear as I sit here alone.

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Your Own Olives in Just 18 days, 9 hrs

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It turns out those olives you can buy ready to eat from any deli can be made at home for free in just 18 days and 9 hours. Ismael and his father have harvested the oil producing olives and taken the last sacks for pressing, but there are still many trees around the house bearing the olives used for marinating and eating. My former neighbour Mari cornered me in Zahara last week and asked if I’d made my aceitunas de mesa. When I said I hadn’t she gripped my arm and gave detailed instructions on how to do it, along with a Tupperware tub of some she had made earlier which were strong stuff.

I reluctantly, dutifully collected 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, throwing out any that looked too black or too green, then whacking the remaining ones with the base of a bottle to mash them up a bit.

After this I floundered. Everyone has their own method and I’d received conflicting advice. I had 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. The one thing I didn’t do which I definitely had to do was put a big plate on top of the olives so they are completely submerged.

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. 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.
  3. 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.)
  4. About this stage in the process I lost all interest in bottling olives.
  5. However, I continued, and ladled in the 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.

It took 18 days and 9 hours. Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.

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