Olive picking here in Posadas! (Cordova, Spain)

Hi folks! Hope you’re keeping fine…

Well, it’s that time of year again! And when I say ‘That time’, I mean olive picking time!

My son has been busy: firstly he and his friend picked some of the trees on the flatter ground around our house. The trees are old and beautiful, what with their greyish, twisted, gnarling trunks — each one different, individual, possessing its own character and personality.

The trees are ‘secano meaning dry, not irrigated and are also grown ecologically (no chemicals, pesticides etc.) The variety of olive is ‘lechin — this is an ovoidal and slightly asymmetric olive and the leaves are elliptical, short and of medium width. It is considered a variety of rustic olive, with cold tolerance, very good adaptation to limestone soils and very high resistance to drought.

As you can see from the photos, these were picked by hand. The branches were vigorously beaten with long, light and very strong fibreglass poles. The olives fell onto the large nets which were spread around the base of the tree and then these were gathered up and tipped straight into a trailer.

Meanwhile, I looked on eagerly…

The boys worked from 8:30 am to about 5 pm, (stopping to have a hearty lunch of green pepper, onion and nutty macaroni cheese, with homemade chips cooked Italian-style in olive oil and butter and seasoned with plenty of salt, garlic and rosemary; this was followed by a generous chunk of my homemade apple cake, the recipe of which I have included below).

Not many chips on this plate because it was for me and I’m watching my weight a bit! (Shame!) The dark ‘slop’ was actually a very delicious black bean stew.

The lunch certainly recharged their batteries, and by the time they finished work, they had picked 550 kilos!!! The following day they drove the olives to the local press in Posadas and the fruit was converted to olive oil — thick, greeny-gold and strong-smelling, still with bits of olive debris floating about which eventually settles to the bottom (i.e. unrefined, first-pressing, virginal and in all its purity — like I used to be!). The booty was equally divided between the two boys, so now we have about 10 x 5-litre bottles of gorgeous oil, which should keep us going for a while!

Last weekend there was more olive picking in my son’s finca (located on the foothills of the Sierrezuela), but this time, because the olive trees are still fairly small, being only three years old and planted as semi-intensive, the tractor was called in to pick them. This was fascinating for me because I have never seen one of these 3 &1/2 m tall giants at work. It passes over the trees and vibrates them with it ‘jaws’ while at the same time, guzzles up all the olives. No wonder these tractors are so expensive — this one’s price was 250.000 € (about £210.000!).

When the deposit is full of olives, it then spews out its contents into the hungry truck that awaits close by.

The work commenced at 8am and by 3 p.m. they finished (just as well, since the tractor charges a hefty price per hour!). Mind you, this will only be the method for the next year or two, while the olive trees can fit under the tractor. The idea is to let these grow tall and big so that they can be picked by hand when they are more mature. I think that the olives weighed in at a handsome 5000, more or less and will also be used for oil. The variety of olive is arberquina, a smaller, rounder olive that produces a sweet oil with no bitter aftertaste and gives fruity aromas, like banana and apple. It has a soft, sweet aroma.

So we had some enjoyable and profitable days! But not so fast — it’ll be my turn for action soon, once I have picked some olives that have turned from green to black. I will prepare them Greek style, that is by first preserving them under salt for about three weeks (after having previously put a cut in each one), and when they have dried and become all wrinkly, I will wash all the salt away, dry them thoroughly, then pack them into jars and perhaps top with some oil and maybe flavour with oregano. They are delicious! See this link for photos of the process.

Anyway, I think I’ve gone on for long enough for now!

Thank you for visiting! Your comments and/or questions are always welcome…

Until next time — take care! xxx

Early flowers

Feeling restless after having been stuck in all day because of work on the computer, I decided to give vent to my feelings and go for a walk around my wild finca in the drizzle and mist. I was surprised to see the following flowers already out…

The rock rose or cistus is already putting out some flowers way ahead of normal time
and the broom too (Genisteae) — probably because of the mild weather here in Cordova
The wild narcissi are on cue…
and so are the delicate snowflakes (Leucojum)
I love the red berries on the wild asparagus bushes, they look so Christmassy. The bitter, wild asparagus spears grow in spring. For my recipe of wild asparagus in spicy tomato sauce, see here
And there are mushrooms everywhere

The photo of the narcissus flowers brings to mind the Latin tale of Narcissus and Echo from Ovid’s Metamorphosis.

Echo, a nymph who cannot speak except to repeat the last few words she has heard falls desperately in love with the beautiful and conceited Narcissus, who is in love with himself. He rejects her and she withers away, eventually turning into stone, and leaving only her voice behind which echoes around the world.

Echo and Narcissus— John William Waterhouse the pre-Raphaelite artist (1903 oil on canvas, Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool)

Fred Chappell (author and poet, born 1936, N. Carolina) wrote a poem of the same name.

(The italics in the following poem represent the voice of Echo.)

Narcissus and Echo

Shall the water not remember   Ember

my hand’s slow gesture, tracing above   of

its mirror my half-imaginary   airy

portrait? My only belonging   longing,

is my beauty, which I take   ache

away and then return as love   of

of teasing playfully the one being   unbeing.

whose gratitude I treasure   Is your

moves me. I live apart   heart

from myself, yet cannot   not

live apart. In the water’s tone,   stone?

that shining silence, a flower   Hour,

whispers my name with such slight   light:

moment, it seems filament of air,   fare

the world become clouds well.   well.

Thank you for visiting — I hope this finds you well! xxx

Quince jelly (sort of…)

Hello all! I hope you are well.

I’m back with another recipe: this time it’s a bit of an experiment (surprise, surprise!) because it’s my first attempt. Quince jelly. This is different from the Spanish equivalent ‘dulce de membrillo’, which is quite thick and granular, easy to cut and often served as an accompaniment to fresh cheese.


Photo of the Spanish ‘dulce de membrillo’ (quince jelly). As you can see, it’s quite thick, compact and granular in texture.

I prefer the finer ‘jelly’, so as quinces are in the plenty now (and at 1 euro per kilo) I thought I’d give it a bash.

So here’s what I did:

Some quinces

These furry fruits are locally produced and though they might look a bit manky, in reality they’re not. They are sweetly perfumed. You don’t need to weight the fruit because it is the juice that is extracted from them that needs to be measured.

I washed the fruit, removed any bugs and put them out to graze, then I chopped the quinces into 2 cm-sized pieces (more or less — I didn’t use a ruler!). No need to core or peel the fruit, as it is the juice that we’re interested in.

I placed the ‘cubes’ into a thick, tall pan, just covered them with well water (which has quite a lot of calcium in — good for the teeth but not for the gallstones), and brought it to the boil.

The pan’s quite deep. I boiled the fruit gently for about an hour until it was soft. I then mashed it all up — should’ve used a potato masher, but as I don’t have one (sacrilege! — guess what’s on my Santa’s list, or rather the Three Kings since I am in Spain), so I used a metal ladle instead.

When mashed, I turned out the contents into a cloth turned over a bowl, allowing the juice to strain through. It was a bit thick so I added some water, which apparently you are allowed to do. I should’ve used a jelly bag strainer, but since I don’t have one of these either, nor a good-enough piece of muslin, I used a clean, cotton pillowcase instead. (Guess what my second pressie from Santa will be…) Now although this mash might look a bit pukey and cacky, it was by now smelling really fragrant and exotic.

The next stage involved suspending the pillowcase and mash via a string over a big bowl for a few hours so that all the juice can drip through. After about four hours I did have to help things along and give the pillowcase a good couple of squeezes (which left my hands and apron damp, sticky and perfumed). Unfortunately, because I was also making a banana cake at the same time, I forgot to take a photo of the hanging pillowcase mash.

The next step was to return the liquid to the pan measuring out how many cups worth there was, then adding half that amount in sugar. (Next time I will add a little less sugar.) I also added a good squeeze of lemon juice for pectin. If you happen to have any leaves of lemon geranium, then you can add these to enhance the flavour and perfume. (Next time I make this jelly, I will ‘borrow’ some of these leaves from a lemon geranium I have seen growing in the flowerbeds in the communal gardens in Posadas village. I might also ‘borrow’ one of the lemons from the lemon trees that also grow there.)

Bring to the boil, let it boil rapidly until the setting point is reached (I used the wrinkle method and a saucer). Since I forgot to take photos of this step, it is similar to the apricot jam and chutney that I made in an earlier blogs.

When the setting point was reached, I poured the jelly into sterilised jars and sealed them with a waxed disc. (If you don’t have any waxed discs like I didn’t — surprise, surprise — then you can use the bag that holds your cereal. I haven’t actually tried this, but I did read it somewhere…)

Voilá! The final product! Delicious! As you can see, I didn’t wait long to try it out!


Aside: I did mention my apricot jam earlier, which reminds me that I should soon prune my apricot tree, the leaves of which are fast turning a luminescent yellow, which also reminds me of an interesting fact: that the duduk instrument, originating from Armenia, is made from apricot wood. I love the mournful, melancholic, spiritual sound of this instrument — it is well-worth listening to if you haven’t heard already. You could listen to Dzhiván Gasparián (Armenian), a master of this instrument. For me this music is bewitching…

Well, that’s all for now. Thank you for visiting — take care! xxx

PS. Comments or questions are always welcome!

Preserved, salted olives (take two)

Hello all! I hope that you are keeping well.

A few blogs ago I wrote about my recipe for pickled olives. I mentioned in it that I would also be trying out a recipe for dried, salted olives. Well, I have performed that experiment and although it’s not completed, I wanted to share my progress with you so far. (The olives probably have about another few days or a week to sit in the salt…)

Anyway, here are some photos:

Firstly, I always like to work with a cup of strong tea close at hand — and as you can see, I’m not the only one who appreciates a cuppa! (You can just spy an olive tree towards the left.)
I washed a load of black olives that I had previously picked and made sure they were free from any bugs (or cat hairs). I then pricked each one with a sharp knife, careful to avoid pricking my thumb as I gained momentum…
(The perpetual onlooker)
Once done, I took them inside and placed them in an earthenware crock (which I bought years ago from the nearby village of La Rambla, famous for its ceramics and pottery, exporting worldwide). I first lined the base with some salt
I covered the olives with more salt, then another layer of olives and continued like this until all the olives had been used up…
finishing with a layer of salt.

The olives should remain under salt for about three weeks until they are nice and wrinkly. You should stir the olives, or shake the pot every day. The salt becomes damp as it absorbs their bitter juice. I needed to add more salt at regular intervals. I think I have used about 5 bags of half a kilo so far, which although it sounds a lot is well worth it because it costs me only 34 céntimos per bag — and the olives were free.

Here is the result after 2 & 1/2 weeks. The salt appears coarser due to the dampness — it also smells nice ‘n’ olivey. I have just tried one of the olives and they are definitely getting there, tasting good already. However, I will leave them under salt for at least another week until every taste of bitterness has gone (and until I’ve gone to Posadas to buy loads of jars to put the olives in!)
…and here’s a close-up of the little fellas

When they are ready, I can either shake or wash all the salt off, then tightly pack the dried olives into sterilised jars, filling and covering with a layer of oil to form an airproof seal.

I will include photos and comments on the finished result in a further blog.

Well, that’s all for now. Thank you for visiting — take care! xxx

P.S. Comments and questions always welcome

Ode to Olives — and a marinated olives recipe from Posadas (Cordova)

Hello, I hope this finds you all in good health and spirits.

A few blogs ago I put up photos of the olives I had picked and was scoring them before putting them in water to remove the bitterness so later I could pickle them.

Olive picking is underway, even on these young alberquina olive trees from my son’s finca
And here are some ‘manzanilla’ olives from our finca, as yet uncut because I just picked them today

Well, a couple of weeks have passed since scoring the first set of olives, and after having changed the water daily they are less bitter (or ‘sweeter’ as they would say in Spanish), so today was the pickling day. And here is what I did:

The olives in soak produce murky, oily water…
…so I drained and rinsed them.
I prepared my marinating ingredients which were (this time) fennel, oregano, thyme, garlic, a little chilli, bitter orange rind, bay leaf, salt and vinegar.
I sterilised my jars by putting them in boiling water…
…but I cracked one by adding water to it before letting it cool sufficiently!
After filling the jars with the ingredients and adding the olives, I placed them back into the semi-boiling water for about 10 minutes to produce a vacuum so they would be tightly sealed.
I did place a cloth on the base of the saucepan so that the glass wouldn’t crack (again!)
And here’s the final result! I will wait a good couple of weeks before opening a jar, so that they have sufficient time to marinate. For my next set of marinated olives I will be varying the ingredients, probably making some spicy with cumin and paprika …

And to finish, I’d like to include a beautiful poem by Pablo Nerudo (1904-1973, Chile, poet and politician:

Ode to Olive Oil

Near the murmuring
In the grain fields, of the waves
Of wind in the oat-stalks,

The olive tree

With its silver-covered mass
Severe in its lines
In its twisted
Heart in the earth:
The graceful
By the hands
Which made
The dove
And the oceanic
Of nature
And there
The dry
Olive groves
So alone
The sky, blue with cicadas
And the hard earth
The prodigy
The perfect
Of the olives
With their constellations, the foliage: 
Then later,
The bowls,
The miracle,
The olive oil.

I love
The homelands of olive oil, 
The olive groves
Of Chacabuco, in Chile, 
In the morning
Feathers of platinum
Forests of them
Against the wrinkled
Mountain ranges.
In Anacapri, up above,
Over the light of the Italian sea
Is the despair of olive trees, 
And on the map of Europe, 
A black basketful of olives 
Dusted off by orange blossoms
As if by a sea breeze.

Olive oil,
The internal supreme

Condition for the cooking pot, 
Pedestal for game birds, 
Heavenly key to mayonnaise, 
Smooth and tasty
Over lettuce
And supernatural in the hell
Of king mackerels like archbishops.
Olive oil, in our voice, in
Our chorus

Powerful smoothness
You sing:
You are the Spanish language; 
There are syllables of olive oil
There are words
Useful and rich-smelling
Like your fragrant material. 
It’s not only wine that sings
Olive oil sings too, 
It lives in us with its ripe light
And among the good things of the earth
I set apart
Olive oil,
Your ever-flowing peace, your green essence, 
Your heaped-up treasure 
Which descends
In streams from the olive tree.

A golden end to an olivey day!

Thank you for reading, I hope you have enjoyed this blog. As usual, comments and questions always welcome.

Take care! xxx

My lazy soda bread (from Posadas in the province of Cordova, Andalusia)

Hi folks!

After having realised that I was out of bread and that today is a national holiday in Spain (and not wanting to drive the 9 km down to Posadas village), I decided to make my own. But not wanting the hassle of making it with yeast and all the time that this involves, I thought I’d make my own soda version.

And this is how it turned out:

Sprinkled with coarse salt and drizzled with olive oil

It’s both delicious and nutritious because I have used spelt flour, oats and a handful of nuts, seeds and raisins. Here is the recipe for this variety — (I say ‘this variety’ because every time I make it, I vary it slightly according to what I feel like and what ingredients I have in the pantry. Sometimes I use wholemeal flour as well as spelt, and on other occasions, cumin seeds and lovage, as well as a pinch of matcha powder. Or I add dried thyme and oregano… it’s fun experimenting.)

This time I used:

225g wholemeal and spelt flour, mixed

225g plain flour

1 tsp coarse salt

1 tsp molasses or honey

Handful of oats

Handful of sunflower seeds, chia, linseed and raisins (vary according to your taste)

Pinch of dried oregano, thyme and a little lovage

200 ml milk or buttermilk or soya milk…

200g natural yoghurt

Drizzle of olive oil.

First I stirred all the dry ingredients together then added in the molasses, followed by the yoghurt, milk and a drizzle of olive oil. I carefully drew it all together, kneading very lightly to make a soft, moist ball. I transferred this onto a floured baking tray, keeping a round shape. I then made a light cross on the top with a knife, gently made indentations in the dough with my knuckles (which made the bread less rounded) and sprinkled the top with the coarse salt and drizzled oil on top. I cooked the bread for 35 minutes in the oven (I didn’t use the fan) at 200 °C, until the skewer came out dry when I tested it — (cooking time might vary according to your flour mix and how moist or dry your dough was to begin with and also how deep the bread is.)

When it was cooked, I stood it on a rack to cool. Then after about five minutes, I couldn’t resist delving in!

It is quite a dense, hearty bread — a meal in itself

It is delicious with butter (which I have) and jam (which I don’t have, but I will be making some purple plum jam now that they in season here. I use the same amount of sugar to fruit, or slightly less if I am feeling sugar-conscious — and there’s no need for lemon juice or pectin since the plums have enough of their own pectic acid.)

And now I shall go and have some more bread, butter and jam in front of Agatha Christie’s Five Little Pigs, which stars one of my favourite actors playing the part of Poirot — David Suchard. (When I lived in Sheen, in Greater London, I often came across him in Waitrose, pushing the shopping trolley alongside his wife. He is the same polite, prim character that he portrays in the series.)

Here is the youtube link to the HD film in case you fancy watching it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BXUs2CHWJp8

Now I don’t usually lounge around watching TV in the afternoons, but I will today for the following three reasons: 1) to recover from the efforts of cooking and having strained my sciatic nerve after lunging forward in my bed at 4:30 in the morning, trying to find my bedcover because temperatures have cooled off at night; 2) because although I usually Skype my mother at this time (great at closing the gaps, especially now in times of this awful virus), I won’t be skyping today, because she is trying to scare away the mice that she discovered have been steadily working their way through her back-up supplies of olive oil, juice, milk, soap, sponges, toilet rolls etc. that she keeps in the shed; and lastly 3) because it is a national holiday here in Spain, being the Assumption of Our Lady.

Today is an important religious day here in Spain, the Assumption of Our Lady, but unfortunately there will be no processions in the streets this year because of the virus.

So for now, I think I’ll take a leaf out of my cat’s book (this time it’s Ginger) before tucking in! Cheers!

Hope this finds you all in good health and spirits. Take care!

PS. And as usual, any comments or questions always welcome!