This ancient tree holds a particular segment of our hearts and a significant part of our earlier lives together.
Within the span of a few years from early 2001, we had planted approx 500 trees. Yes, the rows were all spaced out correctly by the Squire on a small lifestyle/orchard in the Bay of Plenty region of New Zealand.
With dreams of having our own olive oil press and creating a unique boutique label, we started to develop the grove. As with some goals, not all come to fruition. This was one of them. Though what does dampen the disappointment of not completing this dream is seeing that the olive trees we planted are still producing. Their owners are selling the oil at the farm gate.
With still an avid interest, I was excited to see our method of harvesting been done by a neighbour just down the road from where we were housesitting.
The harvesting that I am referring to is the manual method of shaking the tree with a hand or motorised rake.
A few days later, on a Sunday morning, a hive of activity was happening around the valley, and I went in search for a closer look.
“Más Fuerte,” says a local man to the guy next to him, who is swinging the long bamboo pole along the sides of the whippy branches, rather than directly hitting the stems, the next minute a hail of dark olives descends to the ground. Amazingly he dislodges the ripe fruit from the tree without damaging the young buds that will form next years crop.
He then enlists the help of a mechanical tree shaker to speed up progress as the other men continue to thwack away at the vibrated branches. After they had darkened the dry soil around the tree’s stumpy trunk with a circle of glistening dark purple olives. They then rake the fruit into piles and shovel them large hessian bags.
Unfortunately, that is where my onlooker participation leaves the story.
It was now lunchtime, and the men dropped tools and grabbed their bags that were hanging in the tree. Proceeding to enjoy their packed lunches sitting underneath a large olive tree.
With a chat from a young lad who I found spoke a bit of English and with my knowledge of the process, that this lot of olives will be taken to a local to a co-operative plant to be pressed. This is very family orientated than big business, which is very similar to many Olive Growers back in New Zealand.
Our experience with our olive grove years ago was carrying buckets over a few fences to a neighbours orchard [which they have now sold]. This couple were doing their orchard the organic way, and, very generously allowed us to press our olives in their shed. The form of pressing was by hand, not a sizeable powered machine. It required mulching the olives then laying them onto mats which would be put on top of each other [approximately 5 layers]. These were then pressed together by turning the vice handle a fraction very slowly forcing the oil to ooze out the sides of the mats, into a giant funnel, which then trickled into a large vessel on the ground.
We were small-time growers, and so were Chris and Peter. Just significant enough in the early stages to have enough olive oil to last a year and still be able to give some away. It was a pleasure to have our homegrown oil to give away, let along sell. As it signified a reward for all our hard work.
Some facts about the modest olive:
It uses and a few fun facts:
- Food preparation
- Religious Unction – The Bible, the Torah and the Koran are all full of references to the olive
- The oldest olive tree in Spain is approx 2000 years
- Olive leaves a natural wedding confetti
- It’s a symbol of peace
- The most significant type of olive tree is referred to as a Donkey Olive
- The Olive is a fruit, not a vegetable
- The oldest olive tree is on the island of Crete
- Colour depends on ripeness, green, reddish, and black.
Some useful links for more information:
I will leave you with an old Spanish saying: “Olive oil cures all ills”.