Monday, November 24, 2008

Hello from California!

According to my new favorite research book, the Organic Olive Production Manual, "Less than one tenth of one percent of the world's olive oil is produced in the United States, and almost all of that is produced in California." Of course- the same Mediterranean climate which produces some of the finest wine grapes in the world is the perfect spot for olive trees. Luckily for me, this thanksgiving trip to visit my family and my old stomping grounds in Napa perfectly corresponds with the olive harvest.

My Aunt Cynthia is one of my favorite people on earth because she gave me an appreciation for both food and plants, and well, for work. Life is work, she taught me, so do work that sustains you, which sustains the world. She and her husband David Easton, are pioneers in earth building- Rammed Earth, specifically. When I moved to California 10 years ago, they were building the very house I am sitting in right now. I got to help put in a lot of the food trees and native plants that surround the building, which now feed us daily.

I will (perhaps) have the opportunity to gush about the rest of this adventure, and my new appreciation for persimmons and how my aunt is the only other person I know who thinks it is perfectly acceptable to eat apple crisp for breakfast, as well as musings on thanksgiving traditions at some other time. But right now, I am fascinated with the olive. Harvesting olives, it turns out, is not difficult work. On Saturday, five of us harvested over 100lbs of Manzanillo olives in about an hour. This variety, (Manzanilla de Sevilla) according to my new favorite book, "is the most widely planted table variety in California and the world." Olive trees produce heavily every other year, and this was a slower year- last year the harvest was closer to four hundred pounds.

Sunday was community press day. We traveled to Jacuzzi winery in south Napa, and poured our buckets of Manzanillos in with other olives harvested that day. We will get about two gallons of oil from the press sometime in the next three weeks. We saved a few olives to cure for eating, a long process that involves lye and salt, but it turns out we should have picked table olives weeks ago, when they were less ripe. Ripeness for oil is about 80% black and 20% green. Olives TURN black in the curing process. Who knew?

Ok, enough for now. Apparently it is time to eat again.

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