* Between The Sea (the Med) and The Alps -- {Pronounce: ontruh la mair eh lay zalp}

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Olives Niçoises

When we bought our little Mediterranean villa, it came with eleven old olive trees.  Most of them were estimated to be around 300 years old.  While they had beautiful trunks, the branches had been allowed to grow way out of bounds, and we’ve been slowly trying to learn how to correct that situation. 

Last remaining overgrown tree
Although we’ve pruned this tree over the years, it’s the last remaining one we haven’t brought down to a reasonable height.  Being on the edge of one of our levels, half its trunk is on the lower level, the other half on this upper level, making the branches several stories high; trying to figure out how to safely prune it to a nice height has been quite challenging.

This tree has really been an enigma.  Not only is it equally on two levels, it is also right at the edge of the property line, so half of it hung over our neighbor’s yard.  There is just no way we can get at most of it to prune it outside of climbing all around in the branches and hope we don’t fall.  It does provide a beautiful setting in our garden, however.

Ancient trunk
This is another one of our massive beautiful trunks.  We have four of them this kind of size.  Unfortunately, it’s hard to get far enough away from any of them to really see them in all their beauty.

This one is in the same garden, right in the middle.  I was able to create a plantation with mostly various weeds elsewhere on the property that made a pretty spring presentation.

Pretty flower garden

Enormous pool tree

One of our huge trees was located at the only place we had to install our pool.  For several years, we’ve had to deal with half this tree hanging over half our pool, although the afternoon sun at least came past the tree.  But we had olives constantly dropping in all season long, including from when they were peppercorn size and really clogged the filter basket holes!  Not to mention leaves falling in year round.

Bringing it down

After a winter storm took down a couple of really big branches, including one of them directly into the pool, we finally cut it back this year.  The broken branches at least made a good reference point of where to start, but then we really took it down!  It should be a much more manageable size from now on, and the pool is already staying a lot cleaner, but our beautiful tree is looking a bit sad at this point in time.

Until next year!

Olive trees are fruit trees.  Fruit trees flower as their first stage in making fruit.  Olive flowers are very tiny and are quite easy to miss seeing.  Until the flowers have done their job, then they create confetti all over the place!

Promise of winter oil
Just getting started snowing

Days worth of collecting

Once the olives are ripe, they get picked (and they make a mess all over while they’re in the process of ripening).  You’ve probably heard of Niçoise olives, they are one of the smallest varieties.  They are not picked when green.  Ours tend to get picked when we cut down the tree they are growing on, but that’s not the official way to do it!

One thing we learned our first year is that they absolutely cannot be eaten straight off the tree.  There are two ways of processing them, and we’ve done both.
But it was worth it

One way, of course, is to turn them into oil.  That was the fate of the ones we got in cutting down the pool tree, as well as several others.  It takes a lot of olives to make oil, about six kilos of olives (about 13 pounds) per liter (quart) of oil.  There are a number of mills in the area, so it’s just a matter of accumulating them (a real pain), then taking them to a mill.  This year, we processed enough olives to make 12 liters of oil.

Edible in the fall
Another way is to soak them in a brine solution for about six months to get rid of the acidity.  Those get eaten as an aperitif for the most part, or depitted (by hand) and turned into an olive paste or tapenade (paste plus anchovies and capers).  I end up putting the olives into salads (with pits) and bread (without).  I’m currently brining in a laundry soap powder container the last of the olives that didn’t get milled.

And that is the history of how we deal with all our olive trees, which are currently in the confetti stage, not always so nice when trying to dine under one of the trees.


  1. I remember having some of your olives. I remember them as being tasty, but certainly not like canned. Which is a good thing.

  2. Well done ! Crazy how many olives it takes to make oil - wow. I mentioned your blog on mine the other day, so you may have gotten a bit more traffic ;)

  3. The olive blossoms look like the blossoms on our holly tree, and they have the same confetti effect!

  4. Lindsey, that was only the first batch of olives! We cut another tree to make the rest of the oil, lol.

  5. I loved this story and the pictures are super! I wish I could have some of that oil! Big congratulatory hug on starting your blog!


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