Liquid gold, citrus, avocado and mango

Another favourite month with two reasons to celebrate; Christmas and the olive harvest, both labour intensive and family orientated. There are two public holidays other than those at Christmas, 'el Dia de la Constitucion' (Constitution Day) on the 6th and 'el dia de La Inmaculada ConcepciĆ³n' (Day of the Imaculate Conception) on the 8th during which we harvest our olives. Both cooking for Christmas and harvesting are so unlike what we normally do they're an enjoyable change marking the end of our year.

The olive tree fruits every other year, so we annually harvest approximately half our total number of trees. A team of us lay out three or four huge nets beneath, tying ends to adjacent trees to make large cradles top and bottom. Most of the tress are on steep terraces but by now some of us have developed goat feet and are able to ascend and descend at speeds the steepest of banks. The lightest climb high up into the tree and whack the branches with a short stick, the strongest stand on the ground and with a very long pole, at great wielding force hit the upper branches.

Several hours later we will have gathered up the nets, and start to sort, discarding the debris of twigs and leaves to reveal our haul of olives and using buckets we scoop them into hessian sacks. This continues, dragging the nets from tree to tree. As we move along another team comes to pick up by hand any olives off the ground, those that we have missed or those that fell but not into our nets. At the end of the day the sacks have to be shouldered by the 'mule' and walked back along the terraces to the store room where they are sewn up with string. Around a week later when we have done all that we can do the sacks are loaded into vehicles to take to the mill.

modern-olive-mill

At the mill we have an early morning time slot. The vehicles are backed up to a large underground hopper, we unload the sacks, cut the strings and upturn the olives. The machinery starts up and the olives travel onto a conveyor belt rising up in front of us. They pass through a box that blows away any leaves and debris and they land into the weighing chamber. We wait and guess what it is going to be.

cold pressed olive oil

They then travel onto another conveyor which takes them up to the tank where they are mashed and cold pressed. The resultant pip-filled sludge pours out onto a vibrating flat bed that shakes the liquid free from the sludge. The liquid carries on for some time travelling through a series of meshes and ultra-fine sieves, meanwhile we pop off to the local bar for some breakfast.

A few hours later we witness it emerging, a fine steady stream, into its final stainless steel container. The raw cold pressed extra virgin olive oil is syphoned off into large drums which we load back into the vehicles to take back home where we hold 'the tasting'.

citrus trees

December is also citrus time. Down by the river these orange groves are a blaze of colour and it's the best time to make the marmalade. We sell out and each season we continue to make more.

Down in the protected micro climate of the valley between us and the sea, the avocados trees are drooping with fruit.

Alongside them are the mangos, ripening in the warm winter sun. Eating the two together with our new 'grassy' olive oil is a marriage made in heaven.