Between the torrents of rain and cold, and clouds and sun, my neighbours Felix and Merce (his wife) and I have harvested all the olive trees. Actually, they did the bulk of it, but then they have a lot more trees than me. The truth though is that when I was asked to help, it was often on a day that I feared leaving my builders’ to their own devices. Proof is that when it came to my trees, and I really could not cry off, chaos awaited me up at the house 6 hours later…
Our trees are mostly wild. None have been treated with chemicals or fertilizers other than organic goat’s shit, and we stripped the olives manually. Felix and Merce used little rake things that looked like children’s toys, and so did I for a while, but in the end I found it easier and quicker to use my fingers. Also, this resulted in way less damage to the branches. Being ambidextrous has finally paid off.
We always have a late morning start, around 9, to give the sun a chance to burn the wetness from the trees and the steam off the land. After about 2 hours, we set up an olive crate covered in a checkered table cloth for breakfast; moist tortilla and hunks of bread accompanied by wine. Its the details that count. This is a perfect time to discuss the merits of the year’s crop – lots of fruit, but a high water content, so less oil. All the rain is engorging them. We pour ourselves another wine. Thus fortified, the harvesting continues until about 2.30. Nice work if you can get it.
Felix put my meager yield in with theirs and brought the lot to a local olive refinery that will press your own fruit unmixed as long as it is in excess of 100 kilos. The fact that there are leaves and small branches in with the olives does not matter – all this is sifted out during the pressing process.
While they waited for the oil, about two hours, Felix and Merce retired to a local bar. Sadly I had to miss this treat for I found myself duty bound to shout at the workmen up at the house. The newly laid and grouted hand-made floors were covered in plaster, rubble and cement. This was simply because once finished, the gang went on to other stuff that should have been done BEFORE the floors were laid, without any thought that this valuable investment might need some protection.
After shouting at the workmen, I went down to the village and shouted at Carlos. I felt a bit like one of the swollen gurgling rivers around here, cascading on and down, unable to stop. I asked Carlos why he had not been up for a week and why I was expected to do his job. “I am a photographer, not a builder”, I screamed in broken Spanish, “I only understand aesthetics, not technical details. All your workmen think I am this crazy woman”.
He looked at me as if to say, well, you are, and yes, I guess I am. But wouldn’t you be if distracted by financial worry and the Spanish equivalent of the Forth Bridge?
The next day Felix drove up in his battered old Citroen and presented me with two plastic containers of wild, organic, extra virgin olive oil; 10 litres of my own, and 10 as a present, along with 3 bottles of olives prepared by Merce. “Let the oil settle a while”, he said. Certainly. Anything to take my mind off the builders.
On the plastic containers is printed “auto consumo”, which means “for your own consumption”. Basically, this oil cannot be sold as it is not certified. Certified olive oil is actually not always as good. But it is certified, whatever that means. Personally I thought that the local stuff from the cooperative tasted a bit like cod liver oil last year. You have no idea what some people put on their trees.
Our oil smells absolutely heavenly and fruity and is a lovely green. You could almost drink it and perhaps I should instead of the Rioja that is providing me with much-appreciated solace and less-appreciated cirrhosis of the liver these nights. Though I doubt that Merce’s olives would be such a perfect accompaniment. They are wonderfully piquant, aromatic with the flavours of wild herbs. I say Rioja, but that is really an euphemism for I have gone on to the local plonk. It is a hell of a lot cheaper and actually pretty good.
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