The Joys of Our First Olive Harvest in Provence
We love our little house and the garden we’ve made here. I have a fig tree, a little cherry tree and even an apricot sapling, all in large tubs on the terrace, but the one thing that we don’t have is an olive tree. We planted one many years ago in the UK when I just wanted to do everything I could, to bring Provence into our little world there, but quite understandably, it has never borne fruit, and I long to have a few trees in a garden here, although we don’t have the space.
So you can imagine my delight last week when friends at Saint Saturnin asked if we wanted to go over and help with their olive harvest, and without any hesitation, the answer was yes. Continue reading here for Julie’s original post and photos.
Olives from Provence
In the Alpilles, near the Vallée des Baux, nothing signals that autumn has arrived more than the olive harvest. The exact timing of the récolte depends on Mother Nature’s impact on the fruit’s maturity. Farmers hope to get the timing right to maximize flavour and quality like every crop. Commercial operations harvest the olives in cycles. A small percentage of the olives are picked green and cracked to make olives cassées. Others are left on the trees much longer to darken the heavier flavoured oils.
Picking Olives in the Fall
It is common to see teams of seasonal workers harvesting the ripe olives in the fall. However, it is usual for groups to create a social occasion out of harvesting olives. Picking olives is not exceptionally hard work. First, a fine net is set to catch the olives as they fall at the tree’s base. Next, you use a small handheld rake to pull the branches, some olives will drop naturally, and others you pick off one by one. Finally, the harvested fruit goes to the mill for oil extraction and processing. The question is, will there be more oil than last year?
The olive branch has long been a symbol of peace and abundance. Cuisine and religion unite around this tiny fruit, even if ideology does not. Countries as diverse as Spain and Israel use olives and beneficial oil in their native recipes. Both the Bible and the Quran have multiple references to the mighty olive. Maybe we are not so far apart after all.
This resilient tree thrives in Provence’s dry, hot climate. With a strong trunk and deep roots, even an extreme cold will rarely kill the tree. New shoots replace the old tree trunk. In Provence, the trees are pruned in the fall and winter, this keeps them small and concentrates the fruit. Although unlikely the original intent olive groves can serve as firebreaks when a forest fire is raging.
Recipes with Olives
Olive oil is considered heart-healthy, but it can be intense in flavour. It is also a relatively “heavy” oil, so it is not always the best choice for a lighter dish. Some chefs even prefer to use it as a finishing oil than cooking oil. What about cooking with olives? Besides colour and delicious flavour, olives add salt to a dish, which is essential to understand when you add seasoning. Here is a selection of recipes that include olives from Provence.