After the heartbreaking loss of the entire crop last year (see my blog post, “Pick, Prune and Press: Not in 2014”, on what happened and why at www.joanmarie.com), this traditional harvest season is particularly welcomed. The trees are heavily laden with olives, returning with a robust vigor. Olive trees are tenacious; they often are many decades old and still producing. This year the trees also seem to be especially exuberant.
Everyone is immersed in this shared foundation, bringing generations of families and their neighbors together. All conversations are invariably oil-centric as it connects history with today’s stories. On the mountainside, the groves are filled with dappled sunlight through the silver-green leaves and the air is filled with the symphony of bird song, the husky laughter of children and snippets of conversation weaving the fabric of community life.
My oil is a blend of the 4 native varieties of olive trees that grow on the mountain in this area. Their color, shape and texture range from plump purple-black to mottled oval green-purple to firm smooth bright green. It is the combination of these olives that gives the oil its characteristic peppery, picante taste. These olives are not for eating however being so bitter that not even the birds will eat them.
There is a local recipe shared with me by my neighbors for curing these olives for eating. the kind of instruction passed down through generations that is told with the non-specificity of familiarity….a handful or two…half a glass… Essentially a spiced brine with several phases, the process takes nearly a year and will convert even the most determined olive-avoider. As I pick, I slip very nicely shaped olives into my apron pocket, thinking ahead of summer antipasti.
Finally, notice the color of freshly pressed olive oil; yes, it really is chartreuse green and opaque....and words fail me to describe the extraordinary flavor!