Autumn is the time for all things Olive here at La Loma! Throughout the year we watch them turn from delicate yellow flowers into those wonderful little green and black fruits which are the essence of the Mediterranean diet. Once harvested, the naturally bitter olive is transformed into the liquid gold we all know as olive oil or patiently cured into the savoury treats that are enjoyed around the world, being one of the most widely produced fruits.
We have about 90 olive trees, called Olea Europea, which are said to be around 100 years old. Our sunny olive grove is poised 600m up the side of a mountain overlooking the Mediterranean and surrounded by wild herbs like rosemary, thyme and lavender. This year these incredibly hardy trees endured a scorchingly hot summer with temperatures over 40 degrees for over a month, not a drop of rain from May until the end of September and then unusual autumn weather of howling winds and rain storms, which shook almost half of the already early ripened olives to the ground.
Most years we have harvested the olives for making oil in late November or December but due to unpredictable and crazy weather patterns they are now ripe and ready in October (although many of the oil mills are not yet open). With the help of some lovely volunteers who had just arrived and our super local Spanish team, we harvested 520kilos in less than 2 days to take to the press, plus a few extra crates for making edible olives.
As the girls and I were leisurely plucking olives from the trees, enjoying the wonderfully warm autumn sunshine, we discovered lots of interesting and fragrant herbs on our path, prefect for later adding to the flavour of our bottled delights. I felt united with women past and present, investigating their surroundings and chatting while harvesting food.
So far, the olives we have cured for eating have tasted really good but we are still experimenting with techniques and trying to find the most energy efficient and appetising method. This year we are trying both the brine method and dry salt method. We harvested some smaller wild olives (called Acebuches in Spanish) a couple of weeks ago and put them in dry salt and amazingly it seems as if they are already fine to eat. With the bigger olives if you leave them whole, without cutting or parting them, it can take as long as one year to remove all the bitterness and achieve the best flavour.
The next day we took all the olives we had harvested to a local mill about 1 hours drive away. At the mill they wash the olives and remove all the remaining leaves and things. They then go into a macerating area where they are crushed up into a pulp. After that, the mix is spun centrifugally to achieve what is known as Extra Virgin Olive oil. Traditionally they would have been crushed under large stones to extract the oil. I´m sure it´s a timeless feeling of happiness when the goldy green liquid emerges at the end! We patiently filled up containers, hoping for more and more to appear. This year we left happily with just under 100 litres of pure organic olive juice.
When we moved to Spain and specifically when we started making our own oil, we pretty much started using olive oil with practically everything. And we use it liberally because it is so good for you. We even use it as a moisturiser and conditioner, as it contains the real active ingredients that most beauty products put a hefty price tag on. Olive leaves can also be infused to make a highly medicinal tea.
Its no wonder that the reputation of Olives has biblical proportions. There is a lot of scientific evidence to show that this unassuming little fruit has some serious health giving powers! It´s two major properties are that it is both anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory. Its anti-oxidant phytonutrients protect nerve cells from oxidative stress, assisting the healthy functioning of many of the body´s systems, specifically the cardio-vascular system. The anti-inflammatory benefits of olive and olive products serve as a natural anti-histamine, helping not only with allergy related illnesses but inflammation in general. Both of these properties are said to give it a protective effect against cancers, as chronic oxygen related damage and chronic inflammation are considered the prime factors in the onset of cancer. The nutritional profile of olives is huge and amongst other things they are a very good source of copper, iron, dietary fibre and vitamin E. This is why they have been associated with longevity and health in Mediterranean cultures for thousands of years.
So as another harvest comes to an end, we can enjoy the immediate pleasure of our delicious oil and continue preparing all the olives to savour over the coming year. We are thankful for our hardy and tenacious trees and say "Olé" for Olives!
The word “Olé" is a Spanish interjection derived from an Arabic invocation of Allah, (w-állah), meaning “by Allah!” (I have added this information as I love learning about the roots of language and it reminds me that we are all a lot more connected than we think.)