Extra Virgin

Any time from November to early March in Andalucia means it’s time to pick and crush olives. The date for this depends on several factors. The weather for a start, and how it has allowed the olives to grow and mature.

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Some people like to pick their olives very early, when they are still smaller and green. This will give a lower yield of olive oil but of a very high quality. Think of those amazing tasting and expensive olive oils you can find in specialist shops. It’s wonderful for eating “raw” – which means in salads or as a dip – but not suitable really for cooking with. It can be hard to find a mill open to deal with the olives so early on on the season, at least it is where we live.

 

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There’s also usually a minimum quantity that you can mill (about 250kg) so it’s not really an option to mill some early and then more later on in the season. At the other end of the calendar you have the folk who pick late when the olives are fat and dark. You’ll get a much higher yield of oil but it will have a much less distinctive taste. A good all rounder but with no particularly distinctive flavour. Fine for eating raw, great for cooking. Much of the oil we all buy in supermarkets will be this type. Round here the olives are sold to the co-operatives and everyone benefits from the profit of the sale of the olives and/or oil.

In the middle are people like us. Many who have enough trees to provide them and their families with oil for the year. The olives are picked when they are green/black. You get a good yield of oil with a wonderful flavour which will become more gentle as the year goes on and whatever is left from the year before becomes your oil for cooking.

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Now, I won’t lie to you and say that Big Man and I participate in the picking. Although Big Man has done in the past. Like many others we come to an arrangement with neighbours who don’t have trees or land of their own. We provide the trees and look after them during the year. They pick the olives. We all take them to be milled and then divide the spoils. Perfect!

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This year from our 30 trees (although sometimes when we count we get to 29 or 31, we can’t seem to agree) a fantastic 1732 kg of olives were collected. Last year was not a good year, and next year will probably not be as good as this one. That’s the way it goes with olives, up and down. That means about 60kg of olives from each tree and am almost 19% yield for any of you who love numbers like me! And no sprays or pesticides. Rain water and chicken poo are all our olives get to see them through the year.

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In the past we’ve headed down to the coast to an old mill which cold stone presses the olives. The old boy who runs it is now winding things down, so unless you’re super organised and have made an appointment weeks in advance, it’s not practical now to use his mill. A shame.

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But, nil desperandum. A neighbour’s son and his wife decided 2 years ago to set up a little mill just a few km from us next to our local village. It’s up a very inconvenient wiggly track but the views are amazing! They mostly bought second hand machinery, which I like the thought of, and the very effective little mill serves the locals like us for a few months a year when we want to mill our own olives and enjoy our own oil.

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Yesterday was the big day, and the whole process took about 5 hours (one of which was spent fixing a little breakdown). Ever prepared for such an emergency, we had bought beers, soft drinks and tapas so no one minded waiting. We ended up with an amazing 320 litres of fantastic oil to be split 2 ways. Mostly it gets put into 25 litre containers but you can also buy smaller 5 litre ones. We made sure we filled some smaller ones to load into the car for when we head back to England in a couple of weeks.

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I wish I could share the flavour and the incredible smell with you, but alas the technology doesn’t exist…yet!

What’s my favourite way to use our oil – very simple, the best breakfast in the world (well, apart from a Full English)!

Pan Con Tomate y Aceite
Pan Con Tomate y Aceite

If you’d like to see how we crushed the oil the “old” way, take a look at this post from a few years back.

 

Roasted Vegetable & Tuna Salad – For when you´ve been having waaaaay too much fun

Our time back Up the Mountain seems to be flying past so quickly, but we are managing to catch up with family and friends, but less so on rest and sleep. Oh well, it´s all about the Fiesta this week in our village and we´re making the most of things.

Tonight though we are at home. After almost a week of eating out our bodies need a rest before a little farewell party tomorrow night in a local bar. Fiesta food is heavy on the meat and protein as it´s all cooked over coals as you wait. Delicious grilled fillets of pork sprinkled with a type of salsa verde, pinchitos (little pork kebabs), jamon and cheese, braised goat and some grilled prawns. Of course, on Sunday we had the village paella.

It was time to balance things out and stock up on veggies and our little abandoned vegetable patch came up with the goods. Today I picked about 10 kgs of peppers, both green and red and a few aubergines. Most of the peppers were sliced and frozen or braised with olive oil and then frozen for the coming months. A few though were roasted and turned into a delicious, filling salad dish for a meat free supper.

While the peppers were roasting I picked my Chinese Lantern plants which have gone wild in our absence. Tomorrow I´ll pick the lanterns off the plants and use them to decorate the house later in the year. Very autumnal.

The cases are being packed (yes, I managed to get a whole jamon into one) with things to remind us of home for the next month or so. The dogs have been bathed (Luna) and clipped (Alfi) while they stay with my parents. And we have had time to recharge our batteries. Well, sort of. We are counting our blessings that that we avoided any damage from the terrible rains here in Spain and spare a thought for the less lucky ones.  Life is hectic, life is full, life is good.

Ingredients (to serve 2 as a main dish or 4 as a starter or salad)

  • 4 large peppers (green and red)
  • 2 large aubergines
  • 2 small tins of tuna
  • 1 medium onion finely sliced
  • A large handful of fresh mint, finely chopped
  • About 150g of chopped olives
  • Olive Oil and Lemon juice
  • The grated rind of a lemon
  • Salt and Pepper

Roast the peppers and aubergines until charred, leave to cool slightly and then peel. Slice the peppers and scoop the flesh from the aubergines and cut into chunks.

Mix the vegetables with the tuna, olives, onions, mint and grated lemon and dress with olive oil and lemon juice. Taste, season, enjoy.

Grafting onto Almonds

I´m sure you´ve heard of the wonderful book Driving Over Lemons by Chris Stewart? Hopefully my book City Slicka to Spanish Chica, if it ever comes to print, will be an equal success and best seller, but I digress. Well, today we were Grafting onto Almonds.

Local Old Boy Domingo, King of the Fruit Tree Grafters (well, around these parts at least) came round and grafted some apricots and local peaches onto an almond tree we had given up for dead last year.

Big Man cut it right down to see if there was any hope and lo and behold, it sprouted. We have another almond tree which gives us plenty of almonds, so we decided to see if a little hard graft would pay off.

Start by stripping out leaves from branches but leaving the shoots up the branches intact
Nip off the top of the branch you are grafting onto and remove the outer “skin” of the branch

It´s a complicated process, although he made it look easy as you have to find a branch and the piece you graft on of the same size, it can take a few goes.

A tube (rather like a tiny section of a straw) is cut from the plant you will be grafting onto the host tree. It needs to include a little bud. Then it has to be slid off its own branch intact…tricky stuff.
Slide it on…carefully now!
Make sure it´s secure
The End Result…a job well done

Now we have to wait until about August, when we should be able to see which grafts have taken. Fingers crossed for success.

Celi over at The Kitchen´s Garden recently took us round her garden. Inspired by this, and as I had my camera in hand, I thought I´d show you a little more of our olive grove. We only have about 30 olive trees, it´s a piece of land of about 2500sqm but we are slowly planting fruit tress, and this is also where our chickens free range.

View to “my” mountains and the neighbours´ very posh chicken house

The overhead cables are not great, but in the campo it´s the only way to get electricity to the houses.

View out from olives across neighbour´s field to busy downtown!

I´ve realised that the shots are mainly out from the olives, but an olive grove is an olive grove. And here´s a gratuitous shot of the pesky olive flowers that cause so much suffering to people like me with hayfever.

Perhaps I should have asked Big Man to take a shot of me with my big sunglasses on and my Michael Jackson style breathing mask…that would have been quite entertaining!

Pickled Olives

Ok, so I know that for most people, pickling their own olives is fairly unrealistic.  Having said that, my parents have been on holiday around this time of year and bought olives in local markets abroad and then successfully pickled the olives back in London.

We´re getting to that time of year here were the olives are fattening up nicely after the rain finally started and the boughs are beginning to bend under their weight.  Custom here says that they should be picked when the moon is waning, that is, in the week following a full moon.  I expect we´ll be picking early December for crushing and making olive oil, but this month I picked a few buckets full for us to eat over the coming months.

We have a few varieties growing in our little olive grove.  Large fat olives, the kind they often put in a dry martini.  They´re called Manzanilla and have a pleasant nutty taste. These are the olives in the bowl on the left.

The most common variety round here is called Verdial (right bucket) and makes excellent olive oil for eating “raw” i.e. in salads or on bread. They are medium sized and have a sweet fruity flavour.

We also have some tiny olives (centre bucket) which are a variety called Picual with a slightly more bitter and peppery taste.

I picked a mixture of these and put them into my most glamorous buckets, and covered them with water.  Luckily we can get spring water here as chlorinated or tap water does tend to give them a slightly different taste.

The water is changed daily until they lose their bitterness. Smaller ones take less time, and if you split them first they take even less time.  The process can take anything from a few days to a month…patience, patience.

Finally, when they´ve reached the right stage (and you´ll be tasting them to check them), they get a final rinse and are packed into containers, flavoured with herbs (I used dried chili, garlic, lemon peel and rosemary) and covered in a salty brine.

Just a few days more of patience and they´re ready to enjoy.  They´ll keep for months, up to a year if you´ve made enough to get you through to next November.  As time goes on they may get a little softer and a harmless scum, which can just be removed, will appear on top of the brine.

Now, how do you like your martini – shaken or stirred?

PS. For some other great ways of making your own olives to eat, check out these great posts here and here from Olives and Artichokes

Ensalada Cateta – Country Salad

¡Ay que rico!

Before I start this quick post, I have to tell you that I´m having a giggle.  The word cateto or cateta translates perhaps more literally as “Peasant”, but not in an offensive way.  Before I started typing I just thought I´d do a quick translation check to see if there was another word I could use and all the on line translation tools, bizarrely come up with the word “leg”!  Not quite sure what is going on there…but I decided to call it Country Salad.

It´s another celebration of that most Andalucían of fruits, the orange.  Again, typically a poor person´s salad it was originally made with salt cod as it was cheap and you didn´t need to use much.  A few other bits of country produce like potatoes, peppers and olives, a good soak in olive oil and you were done.

Of course, nowadays you can get all sorts of glorified versions, but the one I´m giving you here is the one you´ll find in all my local bars and homes around here.  It´s served as tapas in bars, and as a light meal at home.  Of course, some people make their own little tweaks, and why shouldn´t they?  They might leave out the peppers and add tomatoes.  Some people like tomatoes or onions in it, others don´t.  And complete heathens, like me, sprinkle chopped fresh chili all over it to the amazement of their other halves….each to his own I say!

A delicious serving of “Leg” Salad!!

This is what you´ll need (approximately) per person as a light main dish servng size

  • 1 hard boiled egg, finely chopped
  • 2 medium potatoes (boiled in their skin) peeled then chopped into chunks
  • 1 small tin of tuna (I use tuna in brine and drain it, but use your favourite)
  • 1 roasted red pepper, chopped
  • 2 medium oranges (bitter if possible) peeled and cut into chunks
  • About 2 tablespoons of pitted olives sliced (or use ones with stones, your choice!)
  • Optional – chopped onion, chopped tomato, small flakes of salt cod (or use whatever you have available)
  • Salt & Pepper
  • Olive oil
  • White wine Vinegar (optional) but I like to use it

All you need to do it combine everything in a bowl, season and dress it and leave it for at least half an hour in the fridge so that the potatoes can soak up some of the lovely olive oil.

Good to serve at a party or buffet as it can be prepared ahead and does not suffer from being forgotten in the fridge for several hours.  Hope you enjoy it!

Chickens and Funky Eggs

Normal Egg, Pointy Eggs, Tiny Egg

When I was a child I used to go with my beloved Grandmother Olive to visit my Great Grandmother Minnie. Minnie lived with one of her daughters who ran a children´s home and had her own little cottage in the grounds. There was space for them to grow vegetables and keep chickens and as a child born and brought up in London, I was fascinated by this little piece of country living.

I was allowed to go to the chicken shed and collect eggs and I remember always taking great pride and pleasure in this.  The smell, the warm eggs under a broody hen, the clucking – it fascinated me and I always dreamed of owning a few chickens.

When Big Man and I moved to our home, we also ended up with a small olive grove with about 30 trees.  We talked about one day getting a few hens so that we could enjoy free range eggs.  And then one day, my dream came true.  Big Man came home with a hen and five tiny chicks.  The chicken empire has grown and grown since then. The chickens have moved from a small lean-to shack at the end of our vegetable patch to what we now call “Chickenopolis” in our olive grove. 

Chickenopolis is a complex structure, made entirely of recycled bits and bobs we have either found or been given.  It has a rather grand chicken house, given to us by some friends, along with six of their hens when they moved and couldn´t take them with them.  Attached to this is a sheltered run for when it´s raining and they don´t want to go outside.  Having said that, although I´m very fond of all my chickens, they´re not the brightest creatures in the world and will happily stand out in the pouring rain all day as long as there is something on the ground to peck at.  Adjoining this, rather like a terraced house in a Victorian street of London, is where the Fat Boys live. 

The Fat Boys, turn away now if you´re squeamish, are all cockerels and a different breed which grow quickly and are bred for eating.  Rather than buy 6 week old chickens which have been pumped up with chemicals and hormones, we buy the chicks and give them a happy (and chemical free) life for about 4 months.  They grow fat naturally, and then when their time comes, they are dispatched quickly and as pain free as it´s possible to do and enjoyed in delicious meals.  Once the freezer is full, the next batch of Fat Boys starts off again.

Our chicken population varies, but we have space for about 20 fat boys at a time as they have to be kept separately from the others.  We currently have 10 hens and 2 (very happy) cockerels.  We are just about to put a broody hen to sit on some eggs, so hopefully once she settles we´ll have a new clutch of chicks 3 weeks later.

Last Spring´s Chicks

Our hens can roam free around the olives and take themselves off to bed when the sun goes down.  They´re quite bright in that respect!  The olive grove is dog and fox proof, but every now and then you´ll lose one – it´s sad, but a fact of life.  One of our neighbours traded us three of his hens a few months ago.  We thought they were mature, but realised this week that they were probably younger than we thought as it looks like they have just started to lay eggs.  We know they must be those responsible for the Funky Eggs, as all our hens are over a year old and have been laying for some time now.

When a hen first starts to lay, it sometimes lays a really tiny egg.  Our new hens have clearly not read the manual about what shape they should be either, as we are getting the funkiest conical eggs at the moment too.

Never mind, we love our chickies, they make us laugh, and in return for what they give us, we hope they enjoy their lives in our little olive grove.