A Year in Paradise !
A Year In Paradise ….
Well.. .what an adventure! This area of Greece is definitely challenging ! Living on the mountainside ‘twixt sea and craggy peak is certainly elemental. From sweltering hot, languid, endless summer to wild, unpredictable, stormy, windy winter.. From April to November, a seamless view of the vast bay twinkles enticingly in the glare of the sun. A stretch of azure sea reaches far away. right to the horizon , and the mingling aromas of flowering lavender, jasmine, thyme and sage and daily sunsets of exquisite beauty, cradle the mind into a perpetual state of awe and wonder . In comparison, in January, the garden furniture was blown clean over the railings into the olive groves by the vicious violent winds which whipped the sea into angry frenzied black breakers, hurling themselves at the shore, engulfing recently, the broken harbour wall and sinking fishing boats on the quay. last week several lemon and huge eucalyptus trees were lashed, uprooted laid bare blocking the hill and our shed roof blew away!
December to February is a crucial season for this highly agricultural region of Greece. It’s the month for harvesting and pressing the ‘koroneiki’ olives for extra virgin olive oil. The oil is exquisite and each farmstead has their own particular time of harvest to press. Earliest pressings make the greenest most peppery, zingy well-flavoured oil, in my opinion. Mid to late January produces mellow, more golden, milder flavoured and importantly larger quantities of oil, from olives which are plumper and riper having remained on the trees for longer in the rainy season. Of course, if you leave them too long, you’d run a risk of losing them to the ravages of stormy weather, and you might find most of your olives on the ground!
We prefer to harvest ours in the early to middle of the harvest time to be sure to collect every precious one, and because we love the greener colour and zingier flavour. Most Greeks in our area now use mechanized picking tools , a long handled rotating devices, held up to the branches and fuelled by portable generators which growl shriek and and whirr merrily in the groves. The old practice of bashing away at the branches and trunk to dislodge the olives over many days has pretty much died out and at this time of year, the fields and roads are full of tractors hefting huge jute sack-loads of olives to the presses, who work 24 hours a day to cope with the demand. There are five local presses within a 3 kilometre radius of where we live on the mountain side which gives testament to the enormity of the harvest.
The eating olives called ‘kalamons’, are on the whole easier to harvest by hand because they are much larger , graspable, and tend to grow in plentiful clusters on the lower branches. I love picking kalamons . They will take from three to six months to properly cure after picking, unless you slit them first, which we don’t and there are many ways to do the curing, each household will have their own preferred methods handed down through the generations. We simply cure ours in a strong sea salty brine, changing it every month or so and tasting along the way until the bitterness is drawn out and the delicious oily olive flavour is locked in. we then rinse off excess salt, gently dress them in a light vinegar, olive oil and brine solution and pop them into kilner jars for selling in UK.
Then it’s the turn of the citrus fruits . Oranges, lemons , limes and bergamot fruit swell and ripen and literally drop to the ground from December to March , we can’t pick them fast enough ! So we pick, press, process, bubble, boil, mash, cure, can , bottle and jar the bountiful produce on our doorstep. See marmalade blog for more!
As well as making marmalade, we turned our thoughts to the ruby red pomegranate, swollen with wondrous jewels inside, and and the succulent bursting figs that ripen in wondrous waves and hang temptingly. After many attempts at various fig related preserves, I decided that the best thing to do with them is to pick like mad, eat as many as possible fresh, give loads hastily away to guests and friends and then make the rest into a puree with vanilla and orange. The puree can be frozen for later use, in ice-cream or pies or pastry turn overs. What figs you have left may then be made immediately into fig and apple crumble. I did all of these things and successfully solved the fig conundrum. Knowledgeable locals dry them and bind them into delicious rounds stuffed with almonds, sadly I am not one of them. We had more commercial sucess with the pomegranates as we decided to make a tasty tincture using the jewelled fruit and juice, blending with fine Greek Tsipouro, raw cane syrup and lime. This delicious tincture is available from the online shop. We also made a wonderful and powerful tincture of lemon using the carefully rinded peel. Heady, lemony and full of sunshine is how I would describe it.
I also decided to set up an aromatherapy soap shop as the therapeutic benefits of flower essences have been a lifelong interest to me and the reason for hundreds of very long baths taken with a glass of bubbly and candles over the years …So, I decided to to make my own aromatherapy candles and soaps, then, after much research, I branched out into creating my own herbal remedies such as creams, salves and balms, for which purpose we bought a steam distillation unit so that we could distill our own essential oils from the wonderfully aromatic herbs and flowers grown in my organic herb garden… but that’s another blog…