Roger and Gabi invited us over to their mountain-side finca for an olive-picking day. the finca faces east, the view is towards Miajadas and across more and more ridges of sierra, over towards Guadelupe
they have about 400 olive trees, and a few productive orange trees, a pomegranate tree,
and a big bay tree that lives in the crack of the all- the-year-round spring – it feeds their little plunge pool too.
we pulled the olives off the branches onto the nets laid out on the ground with our hands and little rakes, but it needed several nets laid out on the terrace below as well, as the olives tended to bounce downhill.
and ones we couldn’t reach were vibrated off by Roger’s machine – Eddie Scissor Hands – which sent them pinging all over the place.
mostly though it was a gentle activity, made a little precarious by slippery nets and narrow terraces
the olives were gathered up off the nets into baskets
and by mid-afternoon there were enough picked for the next day’s pressing, and a relaxed and copious lunch of spicy meaty eastern european soup was provided. we sat around on the terrace in the autumn sunshine until the sun slid down behind the sierra.
the next afternoon we assembled to watch the process of producing extra virgin olive oil. Roger and Gabi have quite basic machinery, enough to make about 75 litres of oil, for their own use, and to give as precious christmas presents to friends and family.
the olives are sorted and put into buckets of warm water; if everything is kept warm during the process it helps to extract the oil. then they are crushed in this fearsome and very noisy machine; breaking the pits is what makes the noise.
the mash that results is put into the mats on the press; traditionally these were made of esparto grass, but now they are plastic. (old photos of poor Spanish peasants show many of them plaiting this coarse fibre for all sorts of uses, including baskets, and the mats for olive presses)
when the filled mats are nearly at the top of the press, a wooden board is put on top, and a couple of blocks, and then the winding tackle and lever. as the lever is wound round the central screw the pressure extracts the oil, with a lot of water.
as the weight of the mats increases, water starts to flow first, due to this slight pressure
the oil stays on top and the water is siphoned off
the mats are sprayed with hot water to keep everything warm
at first it is easy to turn the lever, but by the end a lot of leverage and force is needed.
at last, the beautiful green liquid can be scooped off the top with a jug. what I can’t show you is the smell – a very strong smell of olives and oil, though not that wonderful floral smell which the pure oil gives off from the bottle – really almost an oil-paint smell.
and when it is done, out comes the rye vodka ….. well earned after a hard days work.