“No animal, according to the rules of animal-etiquette, is ever expected to do anything strenuous, or heroic, or even moderately active during the off-season of winter.” ― Kenneth Grahame, The Wind in the Willows
Mark and I were both working from home…
and I was looking to make a lighter lunch.
I’m working off the few pounds that the holidays gifted me and trying to keep it simple, too. I’m trying to keep with the right fats (olive oil, coconut oil, avocado) and away from ingredients that I don’t make myself.
With a couple of hard boiled eggs on hand, and lovely leaves from the CSA box, it was looking like a salad. But, it needed to be substantial enough to get us through to dinner, with no snacks.
I love the saltiness that olives bring to egg and olive salad, but I’ve only ever made it with chopped pimento-stuffed green olives and mayonnaise. This time, I thought I’d try some of the pitted black Calamata olives, and purée them with almonds for bulk and oil, instead of mayo. Here’s what I did: Egg and Calamata Olive Salad.
1 – In a medium sized mixing bowl, assemble the eggs with a pinch of salt, pepper, celery, mustard, parsley, and scallion.
2 – In a food processor bowl, combine olives, olive juice, and almonds, pulsing 6 – 8 times, or until they are roughly chopped and mixed. Add to mixing bowl and combine with other ingredients.
3 – Combine spinach and arugula, then divide between two salad bowls or plates. Using a scoop or large spoon, divide the egg and olive mixture between the two salads. Drizzle on the salad dressing and serve immediately.
… and trying them out with various TOOC balsamic-method vinegars (like the one made with ranch-raised honey and another — Vanilla Fig — Who could not want that one!), we headed out to the grassy area to join Thom Curry for the tour.
Thom told us that we stood in the Aguanga Valley, a favorite trading spot of Native Americans for centuries. Situated between two mountain ranges, the valley was named for its water. Later, cattle ranchers moved in for the same reason.
Although the water was still there by the time TOOC was looking for a place, the ranch had become more of a dumping ground than a viable agricultural location. It took vision, ingenuity, and hard work to bring the ranch to its current beauty and productivity, two years just to clean up the trash. Car tires were camouflaged with rosemary bushes. Their kids had a few years of “summer camp,” planting olive trees.
On this December morning, the sky is blue, but the chilly wind is whipping down those mountains, swirling yellow leaves around us, blowing off hats.
We take shelter in the olive groves, out of the wind, and get a close-up of trees with varieties from Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. Originally, olives came from Persia.
Actually, olive trees don’t require much water. Those at the ranch are watered only at certain times of the year, using native plants for ground cover. The trees keep their leaves year round.
The trees don’t require much attention either. They have few pests, and those are dealt with on the ranch organically. Naturally, the olives are very bitter with polyphenols, warding off most tasters. Fruiting can begin on 2-year-old trees, with good production after 5 years and continuing for 400 to 500 years. Some ancient trees are still productive, even after 2000 years. (What a historical perspective olive trees must have! Maybe there’s wisdom in the oil.)
What does require care and attention is harvesting the fruit. The most expensive part of the olive oil process is the harvest, which is done by hand at the ranch. Each fruit is individually picked to avoid damage – once harvested, it’s at the peak of its quality.
Pressing the Oil
Olives need to be handled gently and pressed within 24 hours to maintain the harvest quality. There are no post-picking fixes.
From September to December, whole olives of various color and ripeness are loaded into the huge stainless steep tub of the mill. Then, the drums circle around, crushing the fruit and popping the seeds, until a fine paste is made.
For flavored oils, the fresh fruit or chilis or herbs are milled along with the olives.
The paste of olive and seeds (and any other components) is then loaded into the mixer, which gets out more oil, and lays the paste down on stainless steel mesh mats.
These mats of paste are then stacked into stainless steel separator barrels, up to 100 at a time, with gravity over time pressing out oil and water. The water settles to the bottom and is drained off from the oil that floats on top.
The water is bitter and acidic, used as a natural herbicide and weed killer, which also adds potassium to the soil. The rest of the solids are put into a screw press to make a powder for compost, as well as bath and beauty products.
Return for Harvest Time
Today, the stainless steel equipment is empty and gleaming, but I’ll return in the autumn for the harvest: the heady fragrance of pressed olives, fruits, and herbs; the taste of the freshest oil and harvest dinners; and the heat of an Indian summer’s day.