Tag Archives: olive oil

FROM TREE TO TABLE

 

 

 Freddie worked hard for three days, picking the olives by hand – he insisted on it – to fill 20 crates. We have much more on the trees, but that’s all we need and we give the rest of the crop to Costa and Freddie. Ron’s very particular about how we pick and how quickly we get the olives to the mill. The more the fruit is bruised, and the longer it remains unpressed, the faster it loses that top quality, that peak of quality we like.

Olive picking has barely started on the Pelion this year, but we picked early. For one thing, our olives ripen early because we’re on the water, but also because we really like the flavor of this oil. Picking at the first opportunity does lower the yield, but we don’t sell our oil and oil from 20 crates is more than enough for us.

I called the mill we use and although they weren’t yet in full operation, the owner readily agreed to open that evening to press our olives.

The photos pretty much tell the story, from Freddie loading the car, to the washing of the olives and the pressing, as well as some of the folk at the mill. Remember to click on them so they enlarge.

The owner always raves about the quality of our oil. It’s described as Extra Extra Virgin, which  amuses me in that one doesn’t think of virgin as having degrees of comparison. It’s also organic. The acidity level of our oil is so low that the mill, which has the very latest in equipment, cannot measure it accurately. To put it simply, you can’t get better oil than this.

OLIVE PRESSING – THEN AND NOW

I mentioned using our own olive oil in “Going Bananas”.   Olive crops are notorious for being unpredictable, vulnerable as the fruit is to a great many factors, and it’s common to have a reasonable harvest every second year as a rule. The farmers, and particularly the older folk, say the trees are resting when it’s clear that no olives are developing on the trees, and who can blame them, the trees that is.

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The olive tree grows slowly, taking its time. It’s been taking its time for aeons and there’s something about its gnarled trunk, its knotted branches knitted into intertwining twists and cables, its roots reaching over rocks and creeping into crevices, that’s very reassuring. Olive wood is extremely hard, the tree is evergreen. We live among olive groves that have been rooted for centuries in a land that has seen everything good and everything ghastly that mankind is capable of.

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There’s much I could write about olives, but for now I’ll contrast the old way of pressing the fruit to obtain the golden oil with the very latest technology.

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Deep in a secluded valley near our home lies a very old abandoned village whose handful of residents attempted to escape the depredations of invasions in times long gone. The few stone houses stand silently derelict amongst wildly overgrown orchards, formerly abundant with fruit, whilst the dense undergrowth strangles the artichokes and a few other vegetables, heirs to earth once cultivated, which have managed to propagate. But the olive trees endure. Untended, unpruned, unfed and unharvested they stand in silent testimony.

Amongst the ruins are the remains of the olive mill which produced the oil upon which the villagers and other locals relied. The olives would have been brought by donkey and stored in the ceramic jars whose design has changed not at all over many, many centuries, until their turn to be weighed and then pressed. The harvest was a busy time for everybody, backbreaking work, even for small children who would collect the olives which were knocked from the trees to the ground. I’m sure all would have been delighted to see the oil flowing from those presses, just as we never fail to be thrilled when we see our oil gushing from the gleaming stainless steel of the very latest equipment.

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Handmade ceramic storage jars

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The crushing wheel in the trough; the spout

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Handcut stone; handhewn rafters

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Hand crafted stone crushing wheel

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The hand-driven olive press

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Balance scales

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Ali Baba oil jar

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A ‘modern’ addition – diesel engine

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Heavy lifting winch

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Engine detail – belt drive pulley

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Among massive old machinery

Today every last drop is squeezed from the olives, although the method of harvesting the fruit is essentially the same – the olives still have to be beaten out of the trees. My friend Petra made this video at harvest time last year and it shows the whole process of olive oil production very clearly.

Video by Petra Nowak; music written and composed by loVeu2 (Nowak, Georgiou, Elliot)

VILLAGE STYLE

We usually avoid the Saturday market during the tourist season, a busy time on the Pelion Peninsula, as it’s extremely crowded and parking is always a problem, but today we drove up knowing that things would be quieter. Most of the vendors are regulars who occupy the same positions year round, while those who come only during the summer to sell their wares set up tables along a side street. Those summer sellers are gone now, but there was the usual throng of hawkers around the crossroads, selling their goods from the back of a van. Fishmongers, their vans surrounded by cats; gypsies selling handwoven baskets alongside cheap, machine-made carpets; Mr Cluck-Cluck as I’ve dubbed him, who sells chicks from his big truck parked in front of the church, and several souls, usually older men, selling produce from their lands. These chaps are my favourites. They may have only a basket or two of fruits and vegetables, perhaps a few eggs. They sit on the low wall around the church, on a carton, or on a chair they might have brought along, chatting away and catching up on all the news. This is organic produce in the fullest sense of the word. Organic with a capital O, no mass production here. The tomatoes are fat and fresh, so fresh. They are round and red. They often have their stalks. They have blemishes. They are absolutely delicious!

There was a vehicle there today I’ve not seen before, perhaps because I haven’t been to the market for a few weeks. Two men were selling cheese from a small white van with sheep painted in rather romantic style on the side.

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The Store

I intended to take a photo of this artwork, but it quite slipped my mind once I got caught up in the excited discussion.

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The Stock

They had come from Crete, Greece’s largest island, with their cheese, travelling by ferry – an overnight trip. They handed out samples, cut with a penknife, no plastic gloves.

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Service Counter

“Here, taste it!” I managed to avoid doing that, and bought a whole cheese, a small one instead. It is very tasty indeed, quite mild and fairly firm. We ate some for lunch, with wholegrain bread still oven-warm from one of the village bakeries, honey-sweet tomatoes from a delightful character outside the church, sprinkled with basil from my garden, and our own oil and olives.

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Lunch!

“So, what’s this cheese called?” enquired my husband, and you know, I forgot to ask.