Monday, November 22, 2010


Last weekend, with glorious fall weather, my son, Ben; grandson, Leo; visiting friend, Donna, and hired man, Juan, gathered to help me pick the olive crop. Donna and I had already filled one gunny sack with pickings from several small trees, but that day we gathered the olives from a single big tree.

With a tarp spread on the ground to catch fallen olives, Ben clambered up the tree to cut down high branches with a chain saw. The tree badly needed pruning anyway and it’s way easier to hand-pick the olives once the limbs are on the ground. Donna could sit on a chair, “milking” (ordeñar) the olives right into a bucket.

I picked from limbs within reach—great stretching exercise! Leo, six, rolled olives on the tarp into a bucket, then happily used twigs to make fantastical play creatures.

Olives on remaining high branches were brought down by vareo, thrashing the branches with a cane pole (cane grows wild in the arroyo, free for the picking) and rastrilla, raking through branches to drop olives onto the tarp. Later, limbs will be cut up and stacked for next year’s firewood.

We loaded four big sacks of olives into the trunk of my car, the fruits of two-days picking. On Monday I drove to the almazara, oil mill, in a nearby town.

Dumped into a hopper on a scales, my olives weighed in at 143 kilos (315 pounds). The going price was a very low 24 centimos per kilo and the price of new oil, 3 euros a liter (quart). Nevertheless, I was smiling as I loaded 11 liters of fruity, fragrant, cloudy extra virgin olive oil to take back to my kitchen and to share with the people who helped me. (Thanks, Donna!)

Picking olives together on a sunny day with family and friends was actually fun. However, it's not easy work. I’m glad my livelihood doesn’t depend on it! 

I still have several trees to be picked. Maybe when Ben and Leo come for a visit over Christmas holidays.

I made an olive pickers’ stew to feed my crew. This recipe is taken from my book COOKING FROM THE HEART OF SPAIN—FOOD OF LA MANCHA. The stew comes from the Montes de Toledo, an area famous for its olive oil. Groups of pickers work all day in the olive groves. They make a roaring fire, to warm the hands and cook the midday meal. The traditional version is made with bacalao, dry salt cod that has been soaked for 24 hours to de-salt it. In this recipe I have used fresh cod, which needs only minutes to cook. If you use salt cod, cook it very gently with the potatoes. I like the addition of something green—in this case asparagus.

Olive Pickers’ Cod and Potato Stew
Pote Aceitunero

Serves 4.

1 pound cod fillets, cut into ¾-inch cubes
2 pounds potatoes, cut into ¾-inch cubes
¼ cup olive oil
1 bay leaf
1 dry chile, such as cayenne
2 cloves garlic
1 whole, medium tomato
1 cup coarsely chopped onion
¼ teaspoon cumin
½ teaspoon sweet pimentón (preferably smoked)
½ teaspoon hot pimentón or pinch of cayenne
1 cup sliced, cooked asparagus (optional)
1 egg

Sprinkle the cod with salt and let stand at room temperature.

Place the potatoes in a soup pot or deep skillet with the oil and sauté 2 minutes. Tuck the bay leaf and chile into the potatoes and add 2 teaspoons salt and 2 cups water. Bring to a boil.

Cut a small slit in one, unpeeled, clove of garlic and add it to the potatoes with tomato and onion. Cover and simmer the potatoes until almost tender, 15 to 20 minutes. Remove and discard bay leaf and chile. Skim out the clove of garlic and tomato.

Remove skin from cooked garlic and tomato and place them in a blender with 1 clove peeled raw garlic, cumin, sweet pimentón, hot pimentón, and ½ cup of liquid from the potatoes. Blend until smooth. Add this sauce to the potatoes and cook 5 minutes.

Add the cod to the pot and cook until it just flakes, about 3 minutes. Stir in the asparagus, if using. Raise the heat so the liquid bubbles. Break the egg into the pot. Use a fork to stir it into the cod and potatoes, about 1 minute. Remove from heat and allow the stew to rest 5 minutes. Serve in shallow soup bowls.

1 comment:

  1. Great recipe - will try it for post-Thanksgiving therapy -