Tag Archives: olives

OF OLIVES AND STONE

Olives and Stone

This morning turned into a rather hectic one. Freddie has been picking our olives for the last two days. He’s Costa’s son-in-law but Costa’s in Crete at the moment, so is missing out on our olive harvest.

The olives here have ripened very early this year, and are falling off the trees. The mills aren’t even fully open yet but we need to get our olives pressed quickly. The oil should be exceptional because we haven’t had any of the olive beetles this year. I’ve no idea why we’ve been spared – I think this last winter, a very severe one, might have bumped them off, but some locals think the record-breaking heat had something to do with it. I don’t care what caused their welcome absence, and I sincerely hope they will never return.  We don’t spray against them – no poisons have ever been used on the land – but they do damage the olives and affect the quality of the oil.

Freddie was gathering and packing the olives in his quiet methodical way when I got a call from Elia, our most wonderful stonemason, to say he was on his way down and please to open the gate. He’s been doing some work on a terrace, and has finally managed to locate the large piece of slate we need for a table. There are many quarries on the Pelion, and each has its own distinctive stone. We get our slate from Siki for this stone has fossils of plants, and a very attractive color.  Large pieces aren’t always easily found.

Elia arrived with his brother, also called Freddie, who was to help unload the massively heavy tabletop. Their route to the terrace took them smack bang in the middle of Freddie’s olive picking activities, so he had to gather up his tarpaulin for them to get past. Then he cheerfully gave them a helping hand. Actually, these three men and Costa, among others are all part of an extended family clan from the same village in Albania.

The unusual activity had Raki in his element, and he immediately undertook the task of supervision. He has, I’m forced to admit, become something of a lardball in recent months and isn’t quite as nimble as he used to be. He was rather surprised when he had difficulty recovering his footing while disporting himself in one of the olive trees. The pictures tell part of this morning’s story.

GREEN’S THE THEME

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Persephone has wrought her wonders once again this spring, thrilling the vegetation into exuberant displays of colour, waking the sleeping leaves from winter-dormant trees, encouraging the buds to open, and enticing tiny fruits to peep out at the warming world.

The olive flowers have given way to teensy olives – pale green beads sheltering tightly in little clusters as though fearful of what the unpredictable storms of the season might yet do to them.

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Olives have been grown on the Pelion peninsula since time immemorial; there are trees in our grounds that are at least 300 years old, and many colossal specimens in the area are claimed to be more than a thousand years of age. Quite possible.

The olives are not looking promising this year, though. Much of the blossom was torn from the trees by very strong gales throughout May, so the olives are already greatly reduced in number. Add to this the myriad of pests which attack all parts of the olive tree, the leaves, the bark, and particularly the fruit itself, and I fear the olive crop might be a poor one. I do hope not, for olive revenues are vital to the local farmers.

The fig trees are laden with fruit, dark green and shining new. Shall I call them figlets? They are bigger, brighter, bolder than the olives as they are of course a much larger fruit, but I have to keep a wary eye on them. The wind is not so much their enemy as are the worms and moths that infest the leaves at every opportunity, spreading cobwebs all across them, under which the worms thrive, and munch, and mature, and start the whole cycle all over again.

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The lemons always do well, not surprisingly, and are quite indispensable for all sorts of uses.

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On their way to lemonade…

The grapes are making an effort, but the birds do love them so, and the ants are wild for them.

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Speaking of ants, look at them feasting on these fat buds.

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So tender! So tempting!

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We’re green here on our property, not just in Nature’s brilliant hues, but also in the ecological sense. This piece of land was in the possession of a local family for many generations, several hundred years in fact, and so its history is well known; they have never used any form of poison. No herbicide. No pesticide. And we most certainly have not, nor will we ever.

And yet, somehow, it balances itself out. We have abundant bird life, which we encourage by providing fresh water at several spots. The insectivorous swallows do a fine job of zapping various pests, as do the cheeky flycatchers. And while our fruit is not perfect, it’s delicious and most certainly organic.

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Jason in new spring colours

Jason got into the spirit of things, sporting a new hat, and making no objection to being photographed.

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Oh please, this is getting boring…

Several of the furry and hairy ones stuck their noses in, as they invariably do, cavorting about like kids let out of school.

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Peek a boo!

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Raki is either absolutely convinced of his superiority, or else he’s too self-absorbed to comprehend that all the others regard him as just another one of the pests!

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Retsina’s not at all fazed

 

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.

 

WORDSWORTH HAD HIS DAFFODILS…..

But here on the Pelion Peninsula we have Sternbergia.

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The characteristic dark green leaves begin to appear from the bulbs in September at the beginning of Autumn, with the bright yellow flowers slowly unfolding soon after.

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They last into Winter, thriving in the stony ground, and although they are common in most parts of Greece, they are not widespread, growing in certain areas and not in others. These plants are popular with gardeners worldwide, and it’s easy to see why. They are known as Winter Daffodil or because the flower resembles a crocus, they are sometimes called Autumn Crocus. Another name for them is Lily of the Field, which is most appropriate for these lovely indigenous flowers growing wild and scattered through the rocky countryside.

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Wild fennel growing among the flowers

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The pictures were taken yesterday in terrain around our house. I could hardly believe my eyes when I spotted the praying mantis! Such a wily insect, waiting silent and still for an unsuspecting fly or bee to buzz on by.

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Raki, who is always convinced that he is indispensable to any activity he happens to witness, had to be removed as the mantis in turn became endangered, and when I returned, the mantis had flown off. Raki was most displeased!

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Keeping an eye on things

CHEESED OFF

Poseidon's been pouting, Zeus has been raging and now Aeolus, god of the wind, has joined in. They've been trying to outdo each other all weekend. Rain, lightning, thunder and wind. Not your gentle Zeus-snoring breaths, mind you, not fluffy little clouds ruffling the water, but great gusts of violence. Tempests. Squalls. Gales. Call them any name you like.

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Lord Beaufort would have been in his element. Lord Beaufort, who survived being shipwrecked as a lad because someone messed up a chart, and who grew up determined never to have that happen again. Can't say I blame him. I've no desire to make Poseidon's acquaintance either. Anyway, Lord Beaufort went on to do great things after his bad experience, not least of which was becoming a Rear Admiral and a Sir, and generally going up hugely in the world. And while he was achieving all this, he also made time to tinker about with his Wind Force Scale. In use all over the world, it describes the effects varying wind strengths have on smoke, trees, water and so on. It makes for interesting reading, and gives you some idea if you're about to have a really rough go of it.

"Wow, look!" I'll exclaim, gazing out upon a froth of wavelets dancing with little white horses, as I  consult my printout of Beaufort's Scale. "I reckon that's a Beaufort 3. Maybe even a 4."

Not this time though. Not on your life. The Pagasitic Gulf has been battling a Beaufort 7 at least, more like an 8 with distinct notes of a 9 at times. Olives are raining down off the trees, bits of geraniums are flying about. The hairy and furry members of the household have the right idea. This calls for restful calm within the house, with tea and munchies, a book and some knitting. And friend Sally's cheesies are just the thing.

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SALLY's Cheesies

INGREDIENTS
4 oz butter – softened
8 oz grated cheese*
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1-1/2 cups flour – sifted

METHOD
Preheat oven to 350 degF
Mix butter, cheese and seasonings.
Add flour and form into a dough.
Roll out and cut into straws.
Or use a cookie press if you like to get really fancy.
I simply roll the dough into small balls and flatten with a fork.
Bake on a greased cookie sheet for about 25 minutes

*Notes on cheese
Use an Extra Sharp Cheddar cheese if possible.
I don't usually have this available, so I add a good amount of cayenne pepper.
Chili powder works just as well.

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These are very popular at parties.
They keep well and are great with soup.
OK, so I lied, they don't keep long in this household!