Monday, December 22, 2008

A Spanish day

Today we experienced a truly Spanish occasion - harvesting the olives. Chris' sister Mary and her husband Bill own a 'cortijo' on the edge of the little mountain village of Velez Blanco. It has a lot of land which is planted with many different kinds of fruit trees and around seventy olive trees, and now is the time to pick the olives. So we went to visit for the day and lend our hands to the picking at the same time. It was a beautiful day and although we were at quite a high altitude, it was still really warm, and we soon shed the extra layers of clothes we had worn. We had thought that the idea was to shake the trees but olives are more tenacious than that, and shaking doesn't shift them. What you do is spread wide nets over all the ground under the trees. Then you have a long pole with a sort of plastic rake on it, and you rake it through the branches. The leaves slide through the tines and the olives are pulled off to collect in the nets. I raked the lower branches and Chris the higher ones. Bill went up a ladder to do the outside branches and Jonathan, who is still at home in a tree, climbed up the middle to clear the centre ones. When the tree was empty we sorted through the olives to remove the twigs and leaves and then they were put into crates and sacks ready to go to the press. Apparently the olive press opens on the first day of December and accepts olives until the end of January, so it's important to clear your trees quickly. When you take your olives there they go through a sort of wind machine to get rid of any remaining debris and then they are weighed. You get back litres of extra virgin olive oil, according to how many olives you sent. The press keep the olives to press again to make a lower grade of oil which is their 'payment'. Mary and Bill hope to get around 200 litres of oil. Most Spaniards who have land grow olive trees as the oil is part of their staple diet. They drizzle it on their bread instead of butter (I presume this is because butter is unstable in the heat for most of the year), as well as using it freely in their cooking. When it's time to pick the olives they bring in all the family to help and usually finish in a day. We managed four trees between us, so there are a lot more to do!
While we were olive picking, Mary was cooking a lovely Christmas dinner, so this evening we sat by a roaring log fire (olive wood of course!) and ate roast turkey with all the trimmings. We caught up on news of all our respective families and we showed them the photos of our new house, and then we had a long drive home in the dark. The stars were magic. It was a lovely day and a truly Spanish experience. (There will be more photos on my gallery).

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