Julie WhitmarshLocal Food ProducersTaste

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.

Provence Gourmet Getaway Olives

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?

Markets Provence Cote d'Azur olives

Olive Symbolism

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.

Fougasse with Olives and Cherry Tomatoes
The combination of sweet cherry tomatoes and tangy black olives make this focaccia-style bread a stunning addition to any meal. You can even enjoy it on its own with some olive oil or accompanying some soup for a well-rounded and delicious meal.
Check out this recipe
Fougasse with Olives and Cherry Tomatoes
Chicken Tagine with Green Olives and Preserved Lemon
Adapted from a recipe by Tyler Florence.
Check out this recipe
Recipe Chicken Tagine Green Olives and Preserved Lemon
Sea Bass with Olives and Cherry Tomatoes
Easy fish dinner with all the wonderful flavours of the Mediterranean.
Check out this recipe
Mediterranean Sea Bass
Cake Aux Olives Vertes - Green Olive Cake
A quick and delicious appetizer bread that's easy to make and even easier to eat! A savoury delight with salted olives, rich smoky duck breast and creamy bites of Gruyère. A must for your next dinner party.
Check out this recipe
Green Olive Cake Cake aux Olives Vertes @GingerandNutmeg
Tomato Olive Tarts - Appetizer
There are a few steps to this recipe, but don't be put off. There is nothing complicated, and you will love the result. As a bonus, the little tart shells are a bit like savoury shortbread so you can serve those on their own. And, if you make too much olive tapenade, it will keep for a few days in the fridge.
Check out this recipe
Appetizer Tomato Olive Tarts Shells
Mediterranean chicken with tomatoes, olives & lemon
This easy recipe featured was featured in "Waitrose Weekend." The ingredients are few and there is only one pan to clean. What could be better? Well maybe a glass of Pure rosé.
Check out this recipe
Recipe Mediterranean chicken tomatoes olives lemon

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Julie Whitmarsh

Julie Whitmarsh

Julie and her husband Andy started visiting the Vaucluse area 25 years ago & over the years have increased the amount of time they spend there with their growing family. She has a deep affection for the area, finding it is a great place to visit, where the whole family can relax and enjoy time together.

She longs for the day when she can ‘up-sticks’ from her home on Dartmoor & relocate to the Luberon and spend her days cycling, walking, visiting markets & brocante fairs and of course enjoying the local food and drink.

Her blog VaucluseDreamer gives her a space to highlight some of her favourite things about the area from places to visit to particular activities that she and her family all enjoy.

She hopes one day it will be a place where she can share the process of renovating a house in France, but at the moment that will have to wait.

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