The Wine Country Online

Musings from Sonoma County's Slow Food Conviviati

Winter 2000/2001


Notes and Quotes from the Olive Groves:

Harvest 2000

We have had a particularly lovely fall, and for whatever mysterious reason the olive harvest seems to have gotten off to an early start this past November. But as I write this introduction to winter in the first week of December, we are still waiting on one particular olive tree to ripen. It is an old and unkempt tree, perhaps thirty feet tall. It overhangs a creekbed and a farm shed. Only two branches are really accessible, but they are worth waiting on. We will wait until the olives are fat and deeply colored, and then pack them dry, simply in kosher salt in a large stainless steel bowl. I toss them regularly and top them with fresh salt. They will be ready to eat in six to eight weeks.

There is already a couple of large pails and a crock filled with olives at various degrees of ripeness. They are soaking in fresh water waiting on the brine and the time it will transform them into something edible.

I have been talking to a few friends in the olive business and would like to introduce you to them and their observations on the harvest.

Lou Preston, owner
Preston Vineyards
9282 West Dry Creek Rd.
Healdsburg, CA 95448

Lou has been producing estate-bottled olive oil for five years. It is available at the winery or by mail or telephone order from the Web site. He felt the harvest was early this year, with a light crop of good fruit. There was approximately one hundred gallons of oil pressed from a mixture of trees that include the varietals leccino, casaliva, grignano and pendolino, which are planted throughout the groves because they are good pollinators.

The harvest begins when the mix of fruit from all the trees is judged to be just half black, to produce a style of oil that is fruity with a nice, peppery component.

Roberto Zecca, owner
Frantoio Restaurant and Olive Press
152 Shoreline Hwy
Mill Valley, CA 94941

Roberto has a keen vision and has worked hard to develop a unique business that combines a delightful restaurant with the addition of a custom olive press. I spoke with Roberto during the tail end of the harvest. He felt that the harvest came this year in its normal time, with the peak coming in early to mid-November. It is the same as in Tuscany, which shares some of the general growing conditions of our Sonoma and Napa counties' olive and grape lands. This year the harvest is off perhaps thirty percent due to rain which came during the crucial spring bloom.

I highly recommend you visit the Frantoio Web site for a virtual tour of Roberto's operation, and detailed information on his own soil.

Additional olive info on-line:

Long Meadow Ranch:

Olives for the Table

By Jack Burton

Always a treat when I was a kid, canned California olives were a rare extravagance in those "duck and cover" days. I always wondered why, under the constant threat of nuclear obliteration, my mom was so tight with the food budget. I mean, I was like, "Hey, live a little!" What with Mr. Eisenhower and Mr. Khrushchev, I figured about 70% odds we were all goners anyhow.

I guess the Great Depression still weighed heavily on Mom and Dad.

Now that I'm pretty much my own boss, I always have olives for the table, but not canned California olives, even though I do live in California. My wife and I love olives, and we have a world of choices down at our local deli: Kalámata, Amfissa, and tiny Elitses from Greece, chocolaty little Ligurians from Italy, seasoned olive vertes, firm mild green Luques, Picholines and Niçoise from France, and salty black oil-packed ones from Morocco. These are all a wonderful and recent addition to most markets, but the best olives of all are the ones you cure yourself!

A Method for Brine-Curing Ripe Olives

The making of olives is not an exact science . . . well, it is in big processing houses, but at home it's a thing of time and mystery. The main quality of the home olive-maker is patience. Time, salt, olives, a pail and water are all that you need to get started.

In August of 1999, I am approaching my fourth olive harvest, and eating olives picked last December. We have a tree of undetermined lineage on a farm in Dry Creek Valley. Our friends, the farmers, kindly let us pick the fruit each winter when we deem it ready for curing. For this method of curing we want firm, ripe, deep red to black olives. We handle them carefully to avoid bruising, and save our picnic and wine drinking until the ladders have been put up and the olives are safely in their buckets in the back of our truck.

1.   Wash and sort ten pounds of olives, as described above. Choose a small- to medium-sized variety, as this method works less well with big, fat, jumbo olives.
2. Let the olives stand in a cool place covered with cold, fresh water for twenty days (some people say 10 days, some 40   I split the diff'). It is best if you can leave them in a laundry sink or out in the yard with the water running (just a trickle) over them. Whatever your situation, you must change this water daily, as this is an important first stage of the process.
3. After the twenty days, prepare a brine with:
       2 gal. Water
1 lb. Salt
Cover the olives with this brine in a 5-gallon crock or plastic pail. Cover the crock with a dishtowel and store in a cool spot for a month.
4. Drain the olives and cover them with fresh brine for another month.
5. Start tasting your olives. Skim off any scum that accumulates on the surface, and repeat step four   you may wait five or six months, repeating step four each month, until your olives seem ready.
6. Chill, baby--these things take time!
7. When you deem the olives edible, drain them and pack them in mason jars, or keep in bulk. Store in a very cool place or in the refrigerator, covered with this seasoned brine:
1 3/4 gal.  Water
1 1/2C Salt
10 Bay leaves
10 Cloves garlic
It must have been one hungry son of a gun who ate the first olive   go ahead, give a fresh one a bite! Now, after months of waiting and changing brine, you will feel absolutely triumphant serving your own olives, knowing what you started with.

My guess is that, way back in prehistoric times, someone came upon an olive tree overhanging a stream or lagoon. The olives on the tree remained "strictly for the birds," but those that had fallen into the water, fresh or salty, were somehow transformed into the edible.

"Hey, honey, come check this out!" It was a banner day for humanity.


Wahkaa Sandwich

(The "O.K." Sandwich)

Moroccan Road Food

1. Split a round loaf of bread (hot from the oven   only 10 cents U.S.)
2. Smear with Kiri brand cream cheese.
3. Load with ripe avocado, tomatoes, and carrots from the markets.
4. Add one can of Lucas brand canned fish in vegetable oil and dress the whole works with the oil.
5. Wahkaa! You're ready for the day's traveling.
Sändra Novia    
Left: Spice vendor in the Souk at Essaouira, Morocco (Photo: Sändra Novia)

Sighted in November:

Wine run from Andromeda 6   The Mothership over Dry Creek Valley