Tags: cooking, famiglia, family, Florida, food, gardening, gardens, homesteader, homesteading, love of family, memories, recipes
It has been a challenge to get our garden going this year. Florida presents a different gardening experience for someone from New England and rich brown dirt. Valentino is from Italy where he too grew with a different soil and climate. We have always had small containers or tomatoes and herbs but this year we have gone full fledged backyard gardener. I won’t use the now hotly contested term but I will admit I am “one of those” homesteaders! Nothing is more special than a day in our yard enjoying what it is becoming for us!
We splurged on some baby chicks and are looking forward to fresh eggs in a few months. And we have planted one of the largest gardens ever for us as a married couple. Even our sons are enjoying the prospects of a garden harvest. They too spend most of their free time in the backyard with us planning and working and planning some more!
We have had koi ponds for about twenty years or so. We started with a basic one back at our previous home that was simply a square pond with wooden seating benches framing it. From there we have come to a simple pond near our back door, It is framed by my rubber tree plant that is more tree than plant . It is a peaceful place when I need somewhere to sit and meditate and pray. The sound of trickling waterfalls is like music!
The plants are beginning to blossom now, promises of harvests to come. It appears that we will have plenty of pumpkins by fall too.
My son’s iguana will be enjoying plenty of fresh collard greens in his diet too!
Comfrey is growing! So is the rest of the garden!
This then is what we are looking forward to…. A harvest of our garden, feeding our family, being nourished by all we have accomplished together. Today we sat out back and sipped Liquori di Zecca – mint liquor made from our fresh mint! Sipped over ice, it was refreshingly sweet knowing it was only the harbinger of our harvest yet to come!
Tags: cooking, economy, famiglia, family, family history, food, gardening, Italy, Itri, memories, preserves, ramblings
The headlines have been full of ugly scenarios describing TEOTWAWKI – the end of the world as we know it. It’s no longer merely a Fox News or survivalist mentality pushing the meme on blogs. Recent tragedies in Japan and war news in Libya are added to the fuel of the economy not recovering the way the current US Administration would like us to believe. I have no desire to get into the politics of why or how or even who is to blame – seems there is more than enough of all that to go around the world many times over crisscrossing each other on each round! But my basic budget realities tell me the economy is certainly not improving in my household. I have a decided shortfall beginning to appear each time I go the gas station and the grocery store is not helping. What I felt in the wallet is now beginning to be talked about on all the news channels as well as liberal and conservative blogs alike. Food is getting more expensive, the weather is not helping, and the wars and natural disasters both have drastically affected food availability as well as cost.
So like many I have started a garden – much like the Victory Gardens of WWII. Our family laughs a lot that Valentino is a reincarnation of his grandfather Valentino who was the master gardener to beat all gardeners! He was “blessed” with a piece of land that consisted mostly of poorly placed rocks all over the side of the mountain. For whatever family reason that piece was left to him, he chose to do what we now laughingly refer to as “Given lemons, make lemonade!’ He would laboriously till each small plot of dirt between the rocks – all by hand. One certainly could not have used a tractor around all the rocks even if he was able to afford to own or run one! Because he worked each plot separately he was able to compost and till until each little spot became a wonderful raised garden plot. His yield of vegetables to feed his family became the stuff of legend that the old timers who knew him then still talk about today!
So with this in our thoughts, Valentino and I now set about making our garden. We have ample room to both have two fair sized plots – one is 6 by 28 and the other is 12 by 30 feet. In addition we have set pots and other containers everywhere we can fit them.
On our fence we hung aluminum rain gutter fastened into a window box contraption for strawberries and radishes.
The planters at the base of our grape arbor shelter chamomile as well as the grape plants.
Now we are anxiously awaiting the results of all our work – I have been tracking the expense and at this point if we see a 50% germination and crop yield, we will at the minimum break even financially for our first season! This is pretty remarkable considering the expense of buying soil and cow manure our first time out here in addition to some containers to grow in and fences! I have also started a compost heap so that we can perhaps avoid the expense of more dirt. Our future plans are to raise the beds with side boards so that it becomes easier to control the soil content and avoid some of the washout effect of rains here in Florida. We plan on saving many of our seeds to defray that expense also.
One thing for sure – my impatience (a bad trait to be sure) is showing! I cannot wait for the first salad made totally of our own produce! This being strawberry time in Florida, I decided to indulge my impatience just a bit – yesterday was spent in wicked pleasure making homemade strawberry jam and lemon marmalade (from our homegrown lemons!). The tree is still full of lemons but also ready to bring more!
The family pronounced the jam-making a complete success, opening bottles this morning to spread on toast with their espresso!
Italian Bietola Cicoria Collard Greens and Celery Comfrey Zucchini
Italian Fava Italian Loquats Rucola Tomatoes
Tags: ancestors, cooking, economy, family, family history, food, genealogy, memories, politics, ramblings, research
One of the wondrous things about this time of year is how spring fever hits many of us. I realize a goodly portion of the country is now hitting cabin fever levels and are snow weary because you are still digging out while tentatively watching those weather forecasts! But many of you are pouring over those seed catalogues and planning gardens. When we lived up north we longed for the first hibiscus and then daffodils and tulips and crocus. I loved walking in the woods to find lady slippers, jack-in-the-pulpits and my all-time favorite wood violets, especially in yellow! When I no longer lived in the woods I turned to small African violets in every color under the sun to fill all of my window sills. I literally have over 60 plants at one time. When we finally moved to Florida my green thumb became very brown and dried out. I could not get anything approaching flowers to grow. Oh, I went every spring and bought all the pretty petunias and pansies to fill the yard. Then came thorny bougainvilleas that had wonderful flowers but horrid thorns. Eventually I learned that this area loves lots of lush greenery but few flowers. I adjusted and went for the mid-tropical look like everyone else. I attempted vegetables but never reached the bounty that we had enjoyed in the northern climate. Sand does not always like vegetables and they aren’t real thrilled with sand either. So it took me time to adjust once again to another learning curve. I wasn’t willing to give up, I just had to find a new approach.
So it is with our families and genealogy research. Sometimes those ancestors are so buried we don’t see where they are. Sometimes the timeframe is off from what we think it should be. And sometimes an ancestor was thriving where we felt he or she should – so we need to change the soil. We need to change the nutrients perhaps. Or the climate. Or the location because of too much or not enough of whatever it is they don’t want. It is easy to dismiss advice of our elders or those who have gone before us. We even equate those simple comments as the ramblings of an old fool – or the stuff family legends are made of. But stop and think for a quick moment. Maybe that favorite dish – that recipe we make because grandma made it because great grandma also made it. Was it adopted by the family because it was gleaned from an old neighbor or friend? Does it not make sense in that we’re Italian but it seems French or German? Try expanding that view a bit – did they move to Germany to follow a lover or perhaps a new job opportunity? Maybe there you will find a missing ancestor and can start anew to trace another branch?
Lately I have been watching our political unrest and stress with growing concern. I decided to plant the vegetable garden for a few reasons. Obviously I want better food in order to be healthier. I want to protect my family from the growing economical issues and inflation hitting our food budget. Most of all I wanted something, anything to take my mind away from all the stress. I wanted to shut out the world and find some peace and quiet for a few short hours. So I garden. I dug the dirt until muscles ached. But I worked the soil until it was ready for my new plants and seeds. I added things the soil lacked. I turned it and tilled until the soil was blended and accepting for my seeds. I set up little starter pots to plant my seeds. Each little pot holds one of two seeds until they germinate. I started with fancy store bought pots but gradually I ran out and had to adapt with other solutions: used plastic containers, old cans, old washed out flower pots, even old newspaper cones. Each choice is another learning experience of what works or not. Within two weeks I am already seeing seeds sprouting, little green shoots peeking through the dirt. This is how my spring fever is being fed now. I can’t wait for what I can’t hurry. It is a process as old as time but it happens in spite of our best and worst efforts. Spring brings new beginnings. And each generation does the same. As we mess up the world around us, the plants adapt and learn to grow in spite of us. Some call it evolution, others call it survival of the fittest. No matter what we do, life goes on in spite of us.
Family does the same. We may walk away but the family exists anyway. We cannot deny those who have gone before us. So it is with the current world situation. Dictators and presidents and kings may try to change people. They want to control them, maybe even eliminate them at times. Yet the hearts of men continue. The desire to grow, to find something better, to find a way to exist is in the hearts of all men. We may not like the choices or even understand them but ultimately man does continue and does find the better way. That is why instead of fighting the dirt it is better to amend the soil, to give it nutrients and fertilizer and water to let it enable the plants to grow bigger, stronger, more nutritious for us or other living creatures. We need to learn from history, not change it to suit ourselves. There is a reason history repeats itself. The bible puts it another way: there is nothing new under the sun. To every thing there is a season.
For now I am working the garden, pulling weeds, watering new plants, watching the sprouts push through to daylight. Spring means new life. So it is for all of us, for all of the world. It hurts to watch when we cannot stop certain things from happening but we know also that these plants have lived for thousands of years and so has man.
This brave little tomato sprouted off a plant that was brown and dead looking. It was left over from last year and spent the winter outside unprotected even through the freezes that seemed to kill off so many of our tropical plants in the yard. It survived and grew new green shoots, then leaves flowers, and now a small roma tomato! The plant proudly boasts more new flowers too scattered around the brown seemingly dead branches. It has decided to live no matter what my opinion of it was.
Tags: cooking, famiglia, family, family history, food, garden, gardening, memories, ramblings, recipes
Both my husband and I were blessed with family who could grow anything! My mom was a past president of her local garden club and won awards for her flower arrangements. Taken for a walk, she could identify every flower, tree, and weed. Eventually she also gave public slide presentations of plants of the bible. She guest-lectured in so many churches and schools, we lost count. Ask her how to grow something and her answer was to tap it in the packet of Root Tone ™ and then in dirt! My husband had an equally talented mother. Although she never did guest-lectures, there wasn’t a plant she could not grow. Along with the ability to grow plants came an amazing ability to understand and know how to use herbs to heal. She also was one of those clever folks who knew where and how to find mushrooms safe to eat as well as all other sorts of edible wild foods. She inherited that gift from her father. His skills as a farmer were the stuff legends are made of. Family and friends still tell stories of his farm. The farm was on a mountainside in Italy and many thought he got the worst end of a deal. The acreage was full of stones, large stones. Working the land by hand, he tilled and composted and tilled some more in-between the stones. In time those small patches, worked much like our one yard garden plots would yield the best results of anyone. His children were warned to be careful of his plants when he set them in – after all they were what the family would have to eat.
Now we have decided as a family project to start gardening more aggressively than in the past. Although we have had great gardens we have not done so in many years. We had planters of flowers and container gardens of tomatoes and some herbs but now we have decided to really garden. Rising food costs and a need to pay closer attention to our diet means a vegetable garden is a positive for us!
Our container gardens (some of them – a great way to use old tires – I know some folks are worried about using tires but we have done this for years with great yields and no seeming problems.
Our rosemary bushes here are a year old now. We also have eggplant, green bell peppers and pineapple growing around this small loquat tree. They all seem to be happy together – and this little loquat tree is loaded with fruit already! Behind this established garden plot is our new one – much larger to accommodate lettuce, fava beans, zucchini, Italian greens, and garlic!
This was one of my husband’s more clever ideas executed by our sons. He bought forty foot of 5 inch aluminum rain gutter (approximately $5.60 something at Lowes) and the gutter end caps and brackets – also support brackets for the middle portions. We hung it along our fence line and filled with dirt – plenty of room for strawberries, chamomile, and radishes! Below we have prickly fig cactus and small blueberry bushes! The radishes have already started to sprout in a week’s time.
I will post updates as we go along all season!
Tags: Carnival of Genealogy, cooking, famiglia, family, food, Italy, love of family, memories, recipes
Cold winter nights often bring along flu and other respiratory symptoms. Nothing feels more like “Mama’s love” than a pot of warm soup. Val’s mother knew how to stretch her meager coins to feed her large family. Her tricks included never letting anything go to waste, growing her own vegetables as much as possible, and baking lots of bread. Even the stale bread was used in a meal of soup – a few pieces of stale bread could be broken into the bottom of a bowl and hot soup would be poured over it and then topped with homemade goats cheese. Needless to say, Mama always made her own broth from scratch but we now use one such as Swanson’s Roasted Garlic as a time saver without sacrificing flavor! No one ever felt they were not being fed!
Here’s one of the family favorites for a cold night:
Escarole and Bean Soup
6 cloves garlic minced 1 sweet onion chopped
2 – 15 oz. cans cannellini beans 1 qrt. Veg. or chicken broth
2 large bunches chopped escarole
Cook and stir onion and garlic in very large pot with a bit of olive oil. Do not brown. Add stock, salt and pepper to taste (remember broth is usually salty already).Add chopped escarole and beans – cook until escarole is tender – best when still slightly crispy. Serve with lots of grated cheese and Italian hot bread!
Tags: Carnival of Genealogy, cooking, famiglia, family, family history, food, love of family, memories, pets, recipes
Last night we were treated to a wonderful dinner at the neighbors – our dear friends Anne & Paul. They also adopted a rescue pet recently – the most delightful German Shepherd – what a lover she is! Paul grilled a gorgeous pork loin that wafted through the house with its delicious aroma! We sat outside and shared good food and better friendship! A true pleasure! One of the best parts of this neighborly friendship is enjoying our children – now all young adults. To see each as they have grown up and headed off to their futures has brought us joy and pride. Yet each has maintained their friendships through the years, a wonderful thing to behold!
Anne and I share many common passions in our busy lives. First and foremost – she was the true friend to encourage me on a new career trend when I was worried about Valentino. She sent her husband and me both to class to obtain our certifications in Cardiac Dysrhythmia! That was over ten years ago already. We both love our yards and gardens – and we have both at points in our lives suffered major physical disabilities that we have learned to control and live with or in spite of.
Anne has now also taken herbal classes and like myself is enjoying growing the herbs. Our gardens are not just for looking at but also for good health. We are enjoying the sharing and exchanging of seeds and cuttings. Every spare planter inch is being filled with one exciting new addition or an old time favorite – Sweet Ann, Garlic Dill, German Thyme, Italian Basil, Provence Lavender, Sage, Oregano, and more. The tomatoes and Green Bell Peppers are already showing first blossoms. Soon these will be followed by Fennel, Chives, and Comfrey. Next will be chamomile. Already fresh Rosemary hangs in the kitchen – how I love the aroma! And of course, I can’t imagine cooking potatoes or chicken without it!
My mother in law was one of those fabulous cooks who cooked without the aid of a cookbook. Instinctively she knew what would enhance the flavor of a meal without over-powering the natural flavors of a main ingredient. Concetta was also the village midwife and an unschooled herbalist. Whatever ailed someone, she had the perfect remedy. Chamomile teas or comfrey compresses were common items as well as egg whites and mustard poultices. While on our honeymoon, I watched as Concetta first went out to find wild rosemary. She brought home a huge quantity that she then prepared for us to bring home. She worried about a perfect kitchen not having enough rosemary and she was right! She taught me well! Even now I feel her presence with me in the kitchen as I prepare a favorite meal for our family.
I have been so enjoying my days off – these 3 or 4 day off weekends have done amazing things to restore my soul – it was a long ugly winter season between work, family stressors, and Valentino’s health issues. But sunlight and greenery with the gentle sounds of water fountains trickling and bubbling have gone a long way to rejuvenating me once again. Nothing is sweeter than sitting pool or pond-side listening to birds come awake at first light! That first cup of cafe latte in early AM is heavenly to be sure!
Tags: Carnival of Genealogy, cooking, famiglia, family, family history, food, Italy, Itri, love of family, memories, recipes
When Concetta needed spoons for cooking she couldn’t just run to a store to buy one. Money was tight and stores weren’t always close by. So Francesco would sit after dinner with a smoke and he would whittle her one from a piece of scrap wood. With just a simple knife he managed to carve beautiful spoons. They were a perfect size for stirring the big pots of sauce for the family dinners.
Along the way Valentino ended up with two of these spoons. They were still in wonderful condition but I did not have the heart to use them. Looking at them I thought often of the wondrous meals Concetta cooked for us using anything at hand. How I loved standing at her elbow watching her and making notes on recipe cards so I would remember every step after she returned to Italy.
On one of our trips to Italy a nephew expressed deep sorrow and disappointment that he had nothing to remember his grandfather by. He had lived with Francesco for several years and loved him dearly. “Not even a stone or brick from the family farm” he exclaimed. Valentino said nothing at that time but when we planned our next trip, Valentino packed one of our two spoons. When we surprised our nephew, he was overcome with emotion. He held that spoon ever so lovingly and then made a special place in the kitchen for it to be displayed. Like us, he did not have the heart to risk using it but rather wanted it always on display as a reminder of this special couple.
But our story does not end here. Back home we went on a visit to cousins in Rhode Island. As we told the story about the spoons, one of the cousins was touched by how we shared with our nephew. So she in turn had a surprise for us. Wrapped in tissue for many years was a spoon carved by Francesco. But this one was a double affair: a large spoon on one end and a fork on the other with a foot rest in the middle of the handle! It’s perfect for spaghetti or noodles as well as the sauce. Francesco had whittled one of these for several in the family as gifts. Our cousin had tucked hers away in tissue unused for over 20 years so it was still the new white pine.
I know this spoon was meant to be used in the kitchen and maybe tossed as it became old. I am sure Francesco thought it would be replaced soon enough. Yet it holds such sweet memories and so much love, that we can’t bear to use it. It is a piece of Francesco with us still, a tangible reminder of how he loved his family. And it evokes many reminders of how much love an Italian family shares through simple every day tasks like whittling a spoon or cooking a pot of sauce!
Tags: Carnival of Genealogy, cooking, famiglia, family, food, jealousy, love of family, memories, recipes
If you’re from an Italian family, you know at least 70 times 7 recipes for SAUCE – or as some refer to it, GRAVY! You probably know it by several names! For instance if there is meat or fish it is sugo. Succa and salsa were other names too.
Somewhere right now someone’s mama is making a huge pot of sauce, standing at the stove, gently stirring with a wooden spoon. If it’s Sunday, the famiglia is getting ready to gather together for their mama’s cooking! Someone else is probably trying to sneak around mama trying to dip a piece of bread in the pot already! Nothing says home and love like opening the door and smelling the wonderful aroma of that pot bubbling away on the stove. After all the sauce needs to simmer and bubble for hours to bring out all the robust flavor.
I had always been a great cook. From the time I was a child, I loved to cook. My own mother was a collector of great cookbooks and she was a gourmet chef who could whip up fantastic meals for two to two hundred on practically no money and certainly no effort! So I learned at her elbow and won awards in both high school and college for my skills as well as the accolades of friends! There was never a recipe that I was intimidated by. I enjoyed the challenges.
Then I met Valentino. Oh! How I wanted to impress him – and I was sure that a home cooked meal was the way to do so. After all we all learned the way to a man’s heart was through his stomach. So I decided to plan a nice little dinner affair of spaghetti, Italian bread, salad, a little wine! Maybe even a homemade cake for desert. Or maybe homemade minestrone? Then somewhere around there I lost my mind and my nerve. I decided to ask a girlfriend for an “authentic” sauce recipe – after all, she was Italian American so I assumed she would have a wonderful recipe perfect for the occasion. What I didn’t assume was what I spiteful hateful jealous so and so she was and no part of a friend. I was cooking for the man she had a secret hankering for! According to her “Italian grandmother’s old family recipe”, one was supposed to make big round meatballs and drop them into the tomato sauce already simmering without cooking the meatballs first. I asked her if she was sure about that. I certainly had never heard of meatballs done that way. Let me admonish anyone who is questioning this method – it is NOT good! It produced the most horrible tasting concoction I have ever tried. Valentino spit his out and then just sat looking at me for a moment with his huge dark eyes. He finally quietly (amazing for an Italian, huh? Sure sign of SERIOUS) “What were you trying to do? Poison me?” Fighting tears of embarrassment I explained who gave me what recipe. His eyes grew wider and then he exploded in laughter. Seems I was the only person in Rhode Island who did not know how this gal had stalked him at one time! I was played the fool for sure.
He finally stopped laughing and decided to give me an impromptu cooking lesson. A can of black olives, lots of minced fresh garlic, some olive oil and a fry pan – we had Spaghetti Aglio e Olio! That following week he introduced me to his cousin Liz. This dear cugina has spent hours since then teaching me to make many family favorites and the tricks known only to Italian cooks to make sumptuous meals from next to nothing. Later it would be Mama Concetta who visit us for two or three months at a time and take over the kitchen. Then I was able to stand at the elbow of a master chef and learn! We would put up hundreds of jars of tomatoes, pickled eggplants, green beans, jams and more. She taught me to milk goats and how to make our own fresh and hard cheese. And bread! Her daily bread baking would fill the house with a wonderful aroma each morning! Of course I also learned the finer points of pizzas as she spoiled our sons with their favorites. But my lessons did not stop there. Soon my dear sisters in law would share more lessons with me. I learned to travel with a notebook to write down all the recipes and hints and tips. Stuffed breads with spinach or broccoli, leek soup, roasted herbed potatoes, pane di spagna, lasagna, granite, brandied fruits, fried squash blossoms. Even now there is nothing more special than being “en la cucina” with one or more of them as we all laugh, gossip, and cook. Famiglia! Mangia! Buon Appetito tutti!
Tags: charity, cooking, famiglia, family, Italy, Itri, ramblings, recipes
Many homes in Italy boast brick ovens out back. Or they may have been community ovens shared by several homes within the town. For instance my mother in law always baked her bread midweek on her day for the neighborhood oven. The oven is no longer standing, long ago fallen and then demolished. Valentino remembers well with his siblings how there was one person who guarded the locks and the wood, and another who held the yeast for everyone to use!
The flavor and shape of the bread varies from region to region. My sister in law describes the bread from Tollo as being dry and lifeless. She and I offer that perhaps it is lacking the addition of love when baked! The bread in Abruzzi is made without salt. Talk about hard to get used to! Most of my other sister in law’s life, she baked her own bread because she could not get used to bread without salt. Now that she is older, she buys her bread but often apologizes for the lack of flavor. Most Italians baked the bread in wood ovens for a couple of basic reasons we Americans have never given much thought to. Europeans in general are much more cautious with the earth’s limited resources and therefore take greater care not to abuse them. The brick ovens are heated with wood, the fires banked and stoked to conserve the heat in the bricks while the bread bakes slowly. The bread bakes slower and longer resulting in a thicker harder crust with a softer and moister inside. Yet this softer inside is not the mushy consistency of most American white bread. None of the bread is wasted even as it goes stale. Stale bread is another excuse for bread soup – if anyone is so fortunate to have bread left over long enough to go stale! Most folks will sop up the sauce after eating their pastas and also dip in the oil and balsamic vinegar dressings from the salads. Occasionally though some bread will remain and be made into bread soup on the last day. Bread soup is made by simmering a vegetable broth with onions and pouring it over the stale bread pieces, and then topped with lots of parmesan cheese. Talk about leftovers tasting like an extravagant meal! Nothing fancy but nothing wasted! It is the waste not, want not philosophy that Italians live by. Bread is now also sold in bakeries but never in the plastic one use bags we Americans seem to favor too much. Shoppers use large canvas bags, cotton breathable bags, or even large baskets carries on their arms.
All of this brings to mind our walk as Christians and as citizens of this world. We Christians should be taking our time to be slow baked in the fires of the Holy Spirit, slowly developing that thick skin to avoid the slings and the temptations of the world. But we also need the softer inside – not mushy – but soft enough to maintain the heart of the Lord for others without phony sentimental mushiness. We should also be concerned about the earth’s resources. Isn’t that also part of caring for widows and orphans and others less fortunate than ourselves? If we spend less on wastefulness and more on charity, maybe we would also be witnessing more to others? I guess those differing bread recipes are so much like us. It takes many denominations and many ways of looking at the needs of others to really share the Word. We all love Him but we often go about worshipping in different ways. Not wrong. Just different. Going back to the idea of community ovens: aren’t they remindful of churches? What better way to reach people than to be there at the community hearth to mingle, to share, to be instead of hiding at home alone? There are the keepers of the flame and the leavening to help each of us! Hmmm. Sounds familiar too? Gee. I thought we Americans were supposed to be the leaders? Maybe we still have some learning by example too?
Tags: cooking, famiglia, family, food, Italy, Itri, recipes
The olives of Itri are some of the finest grown in the world. Most know them as the olives of Gaeta due to an arrangement made years ago as the port of Gaeta was more recognized than the smaller town of Itri. But the olives themselves are grown up and down all the beautifully terraced mountain groves of Itri. There they benefit from both the mountain air and the sea breezes that blow inland across the mountains. Standing at the top of the Castello di Itri one can look out in all directions and see row upon row of neatly terraced olive groves spreading up and down all of the mountains and hills.
During the month of April one can see and smell the fires as the olive growers trim back the trees and ground scrubs to encourage more fruit growth. This also helps protect the trees during the dangerous fire seasons when lightning strikes can start the wild fires so difficult to fight in the mountains.
Most experienced farmers will trim the trees back to the two or three main branches and then smaller ones off of those. Keeping those branches trimmed means more of the energy of the tree goes to establish roots and then olive growth instead of small branches and many leaves. The trees are kept small enough that they can use a small ladder to access all of the olives to be harvested.
By April most of the olives have been harvested except for those being left to fully blacken on the trees. These are considered the sweetest ones because they so ripen. The farmers take great care at this stage to not bruise the olives by rough handling but because the olives are ripening quickly now, they hang nets beneath the trees overlapping each other so as to not lose any to the ground to spoil or be walked on.
Slow growing by nature, these trees have been tended by the same family for generation upon generation. With care, they live well over one hundred years. They carefully store the olives for the family to eat as well as take some to refineries to be made into deep pungent oil. It is important for un-bruised fruit to be refined in order to monitor the acid content in order to have the sweetest oils. The cold pressed or first pressed is the deepest green known as extra virgin. Then the olives are pressed again and even again a third time to extract the most oils possible. Each pressing results in a lighter colored oil. Nothing is left to waste – after oil is pressed, the waste of the pits is often mashed to become heating fuel as well as mulch for back around the trees. Now that refineries use so much water in the pressing process, they are dealing with the issues of the waste water being toxic. This was not a problem before the larger refineries came into being as the farmers seldom used quantities of water in their smaller local refineries. Now waste water is collected to be disposed of safely and many of the commercial refineries are developing methods of cleaning this water to not foul the water supplies or ground.
Each stage of the harvest yields a different olive. Nothing beats the flavors of these olives. The strong green new olives, the cracked olives with their more pungent flavor, the tender black olives, and the sweetness of the sundried black olives!