Our olive harvest took place this past weekend. We can not be sufficiently profuse in our thanks to those who trekked the 2.5 hours to our humble farm, and helped harvest 600 pounds of olives – enough for up to 10 gallons or 38 Liters of oil. Work began a week earlier… no scratch that, it actually started with the Spring flowering, when our olive trees exploded with tiny little flower buds (see photo) that look deceptively like, in their early pre-flower stage, little baby olives. Sadly, the vast majority are infertile, and will expire unexercised so to speak.
Of the remainder, tiny olives will form, though they are a long way from finding their way into the picker’s bin and the olive press. Betwixt and between, the fruit is subject to the whims of Anderson Valley’s barely hospitable olive climate, assuring that Darwin’s “survival of the fittest” theory will once again prevail.
We’ve grown fairly adept at rating the spring bud break and the fall fruit yield of each tree on our farm (photo, left). We walk the rows, laptop in hand, rating each tree on a scale of 0 – 3, and by a fairly simple set of calculations, we’ve been able to estimate with a fair degree of accuracy, the resulting amount of oil the farm will produce in a given year.
As December draws near, our harvest invitations go out to friends and family. The event is a lot of work for all involved, but a lot of fun as well. Food and drink flow throughout the day, and into the early evening, and conversations ebb and flow from tree to tree.
This year produced a record number of guests who accepted our invitation – almost 70 – so a week before the harvest we bought more food than the US Army. Our 2012 menu included pulled pork sandwiches, and we started slow roasting the meat on Wednesday, with three 5-hour batches finding their way through our ovens over the course of two days. Thanks go out to friend and neighbor Rick Wallace, who helped cook for six hours on Thursday evening in exchange for nothing but a bit of wine and a bite of dinner. Ok, a lot of wine. But still. That same night marked the beginning of our wave of cancellations – illnesses, a theft, exhaustion, and competing holiday plans, all took their toll. We knew early on we’d have way too much food!
The weekend before our harvest saw one of the worst storms of 2012, with flash flood warnings, road closures and power outages. So we were pleased to see the day break on Saturday with our farm sitting above the fog bank, and nearly clear skies. We set out the first of three waves of food and then welcomed the ever-reliable Sverak family – the first to arrive by a long shot – and we commenced to pickin’. It was about 10AM.
Oddly, we have no photos from the 35-40 people who arrived to help during the day, and hope that our attendees’ sea of cameras produced some shots you’ll deem worthy of sharing. But what we CAN tell you is that, as the afternoon wore on, it became very clear that we had far more fruit than daylight. Even with 70-80 hands hard at work (well, assuming two each), we knew we would have to leave at least a hundred pounds on the trees, as we had to have the fruit to our milling appointment by 8:30 Sunday morning.
Here’s the odd thing. There was no management, no overseer, no verbal agreement to keep going – just a group of friends eager to share our challenge and hated to admit defeat. Ever pick blackberries and find it difficult to leave because there was “just one more unpicked spot” around every corner? Yeah it was sort of like that, only without the thorns.
After sunset, we worked by car headlight and headlamps until the cold crept into our knuckles and other aging joints, and we recessed to the warmth of our kitchen, den and living room. I’d selected wines to accompany pulled pork – Anderson Valley Pinot Noir from Phillips Hill, a Berger Zweigelt from my select import portfolio, and for those with contemporary palates, a Zinfandel from Speedy Creek – among a host of other wines from my portfolio. And for the beer lovers, Anchor Steam’s Celebration Ale was a delicious pairing, offsetting the pork’s spicy dry rub with its round and rich Holiday spice notes.
Once inside, we celebrated December birthdays (all five!) and rewarded our hard-working friends with some good conviviality. It was a fairly early evening, however, as we had to get up by 7AM for the one-hour drive to our 8:30 appointment at the olive press the next morning.
After crushing, the must is warmed up to 80 degrees (max) to help extract the oil – this is the process known as “Cold Press” you’ve likely seen on the labels of better olive oils. Though higher temperatures extract additional oil, its more bitter and lower in quality.
How much oil did we get this year? A gallon of olive oil generally results from each 60 – 80 pounds of fruit. But this year’s heavy rains increased the water content of our olives so our yield required far more olives – 89 pounds – to produce each gallon of oil So our total for this year’s harvest was just 6.5 gallons of oil for all our valiant efforts.
Fortunately, a good time was had by all, and we thank all participants for their enthusiastic contributions.
P.S. Lost and found photo – add to this a pair of blue gloves (kid sized) and socks filled with rice. Contact me if any of these are yours!
And now – our public photo gallery, courtesy of our talented volunteers: