A Weekend of Olive Picking with Friends
The olive harvest…what an amazingly bountiful year.
When I’m among the olive trees in the orchard, I feel like there is no place I’d rather be. I love the sound of the dry earth crunching under my boots as I walk among the silvery trees dripping with ripe olives. I love the the autumn sun bathing the fields from dawn to sunset. I love the distant sound of a dog barking, a goat bleating, or a tractor in a nearby field rolling along. I adore hearing my kids laugh and joke as they pick handfuls of fruit. It’s truly my idea of heaven to be so connected to this beautiful land. And of course, as with most things, it’s a thousand times nicer if we are able to share it with wonderful friends.
This year, as with most years, we headed down to the farm for a long weekend at the end of October. The farm is located on the Çesme peninsula on the Aegean coast of Turkey, just outside the tiny village of Yagcilarköy. The land is as pretty as a picture, with rolling hills and farms all around. It’s a perfect oasis. I invited the usual gang of friends (i.e. weekend olive pickers) and the scene was set.
Working in the fields produces some huge appetites, and I knew I would need to stock up on food! We had a total of 8 kids and 8 adults, two of whom were vegan/vegetarian, so we would need lots and lots of veggies. In a case like this, there is only one place to go — the local market. Luckily, Friday is market day in Urla, the closest town to the farm. This is where I go to find the most gorgeous fresh fruits and vegetables imaginable, as well as the loveliest most friendly stall owners. My absolute favorite thing is to talk and joke around with them. It makes the whole experience personal and beautiful. Look at the smile below on the onion seller’s face. He was fantastic and so much fun.
Everything was so brilliant and fresh. I have a thing for color and the combinations at the market, or Pazar, are spectacular. I love the purple beets next to fat green okra with hints of red running through them, juicy red tomatoes, long crisp cowpeas in the pod, piles of lemons, tangerines, apples, onions, and garlic. Just heaven. I bought a kilo of special long beans for steaming and serving with a Garlic Lemon Sauce. My partner in crime at the market, my dear friend Meral, had the idea of buying Beets and Carrots for roasting with Balsamic Vinegar and Olive Oil. I thought this was a brilliant plan. My mouth was watering at the idea of the gorgeous caramelized root vegetables this recipe would make. In addition, I got 2 kilos of Cranberry Beans, to serve Mediterranean Style with loads of garlic, tomato, onion, and olive oil, and much more.
Green Beans in Garlic Lemon Sauce
1 pound (1/2 kg) of green beans
Juice of one lemon
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
a couple glugs of olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Steam the beans and set aside to cool.
Mix the remaining ingredients, adjusting amounts to taste, and pour over the cooled beans. This is served cold or at room temperature as a side dish or meze (appetizer).
Roasted Beets and Carrots in a Balsamic Glaze
3-4 beets, peeled and cut into large chunks
A bunch of carrots, peeled
2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
4 Tbsp olive oil
A few sprigs of rosemary
Salt and pepper to taste
Preheat the oven to 200°C/ 395° F.
Chop the beets and carrots into large chunks. Line an oven tray with aluminum foil, leaving extra foil to fold over the vegetables later and form a pouch.
Sprinkle the balsamic, olive oil, salt, and pepper over the vegetables and fold over the foil to form a seal around the vegetables.
Roast for about 45 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender and caramelized. Serve warm or at room temperature.
And although we have our own olives, we tend to use them mostly to make oil, so I bought some table olives, as no proper meal on the Aegean would be complete without them. In our house, olives are basically served all day, but most importantly at breakfast, when we have them with freshly sliced tomatoes, Turkish white cheese (similar to feta), boiled eggs, cucumbers, and fresh country bread slathered with butter and locally made apricot jam. I love how the whole fruit is in the jam. I will put up a recipe for this the next time I find just the right apricots in the market.
So with the shopping done, the scene was set. It was time to hit the fields. Our entire marvelous crew headed out. The kids picked in teams, with even the youngest boys filling a basket each day. I was so proud of them. It’s so amazing to all work toward our goal, at least 300 kilos by the end of the weekend. We picked and picked and picked from dawn until dusk. Everyone worked so diligently… well, almost everyone…
In an environment like the farm, mealtimes are always special. We are often a large diverse group and there is really no other place to go for a meal unless you want to get in the car and drive for a bit.
One morning, after doing their fair share of picking, the men decided to head to the fish auction, always a fun excursion! You have to compete with all the restaurants to buy the day’s catch straight from the fisherman who bring it in. On this occasion, after competing so vigorously that they all needed a beer afterwards, Ned and the gang brought home a bag of beautiful gleaming sardines and 6 Gilt Head Breams (Çipura). We gathered grape leaves from the garden and wrapped each sardine individually, coating them with olive oil, and putting the entire tray in an outdoor wood-burning oven. The grape leaves keep the fish moist and tender and infuse the fish with a tangy herby flavor. After we devoured these as an appetizer, I covered the gilt head breams with olive oil and set them in a grilling cage, placing dried bay leaves all around to prevent sticking and to add a nice pungent fragrance to this mild fish. Just perfect. Throughout the process, we were all of course munching on snacks, the most remarkable of which was Aubergine Tempura and Fried Calamari that my talented friend Wen was churning out. We were eating it faster than she could make it because it was soooooo delicious.
The next day, after two days of steady work in the field, we were ready to take our olives to the press! This is such an exciting part of the process. I woke up early, put several pots of dark coffee on to brew, and baked a Vegan Lemon Drizzle Cake to take with us to the press in case anyone needed a snack. When everyone was awake, we climbed into the trucks with baskets of olives and drove to our favorite olive press in a nearby village. Cakabey Press uses the traditional method of a large stone wheels to grind the olives and woven mats placed one on top of the other to squeeze the oil out of the olive paste. It’s a purely organic process and produces flavorful extra virgin olive oil.
After the process is completed, which takes a few hours, it’s time to go home and sample the oil with a little whole wheat sesame bread and local red wine from the vineyard down the road. And the verdict? Yummy green-gold heaven with a deep flavor and a slight bite, just the way I like it. Thank you everyone!
And that’s it for this wonderful weekend. Until next year…
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