MANY readers will have one or two olive trees and a few will be lucky enough to have healthy high yielding olive grove. But not everyone makes maximum use of their benefits so I review them in this week’s column. Brainstorming I could think of 15. They are described below.
1. They are interesting evergreen trees especially if pruned annually in January or February to keep their shape and open up the centre to let the air in to prevent olives from rotting.
2. Hundred, 1,000 and 2,000 year old trees add majesty and special interest to any garden. If you have several do keep them and don’t be tempted to sell them abroad as the millennium plus ones are part of Spain’s dwindling heritage.
3. If you have just one or two you can harvest the olives each autumn and pickle them for eating. How to do so is fully described in ‘Growing healthy fruit in Spain’.
In outline the most popular process is as follows.
a. Soak olives in cold water for five to six weeks changing the water every few days. This extracts the bitter taste of raw olives.
b. Then collect a bunch of thyme leaves preferably the round leaved pebrella variety.
c. Prepare brine by two thirds filling a saucepan or bowl with luke-warm water, then adding salt table spoon by table spoon and whisking to dissolve it until a fresh egg floats towards the surface of the brine rather than lying on the bottom.
d. Then fill jars with olives with a few thyme leaves between every two or three layers. Fill the packed jars with brine and float two or three carob leaves on the surface. Seal the jars and place in a cool dark place for three to six months.
e. Then when you want to try your olives open a jar and remove some olives into a bowl and rinse them with cold water to remove excess salt. You can then eat them raw or improve the flavour by adding a selection of rosemary and thyme leaves, oregano leaves, anise seeds, sesame seeds, chopped garlic, slivers of orange and lemon rind, or honey and then just covering with olive oil. Stir the mixture. Then cover the bowl with kitchen towel paper and set to one side for a couple of days before serving as tapas.
4. If you can harvest 200 kilos or more, or add to a neighbour’s larger harvest, you can take your olives to an olive mill to have them processed into olive oil.
5. The shape and leaf cover is attractive to nesting birds such as blackbirds.
6. Pruned thick suckers and strong thin branches can be used to repair old wicker baskets and bird cages.
7. Long thick branches removed when doing a major 80 per cent pruning when taking over and rehabilitating an olive tree are useful in the garden, especially the vegetable garden to strengthen support netting for peas and beans.
8. Dried twigs are useful when lighting a log fire or log burning stove due to the oil in the woods.
9. Likewise olive logs are excellent for establish a good strong fire.
10. Thick logs are also excellent for wood turning if that is your hobby.
11. A line of olive trees or a thick grove makes a good privacy and security screen.
12. Being evergreen olive trees make good wind and rain breaks.
13. A mature tree can offer deep shade.
14. Young seedlings/saplings can be trained into interesting bonsais.
15. To help you enjoy your olive trees for many a year, add a few olive leaves to your morning herbal infusion. The ingredients in olive leaves are said to have anti-aging, anti-biotic, anti-oxidant, anti-cancerous properties. I started to add leaves to herbal infusions a few days a week after my cancer scare 20 years ago, when starting a natural recovery rather than accepting chemical and radio therapies. This was the stimulus to writing the book ‘Living well from our garden – Mediterranean style’. Incidentally this book will be published in Spanish before Christmas and will join the English version on the bookshelves of Amazon Books.
© Dick Handscombe www.gardenspain.com October 2014