First olive picking of 2011

A lovely November day, our friends gathered to help and we enjoyed a pleasant day picking olives. It’s a steady job, and no, we don’t grab hold of the tree and shake it, although I know the big machines do that in the large olive groves.

Fortunately, we only have 30 trees, some more productive than others, so we comb them off with our hands. The big fat ones are always just out of reach, even after you’ve climbed the ladder.

We picked 145 kilos which produced 23 litres of extra virgin olive oil. Not a bad start. There are plenty more on the trees, not yet quite ripe, and we now have rain, so they’ll have to wait.

We paused for a substantial lunch of chilli and fruit crumble, washed down with plenty of wine. Those still sufficiently sober continued picking into the late afternoon, after which we loaded up the sacks and took them to our local cooperativa.

Jess keeps an eye on us to check we do the job properly.

Here's the crop all ready to go. Not a particular good one this year due to a dry spring. But there are still more olives yet to ripen.

       David backs up to the weighing platform.

      Tony helps him to unload and tip the olives out into the press.

      Here the crop is being taken up the conveyor belt.

      Our olives are tested in the office for the correct level of acidity.

      A lorry comes next and starts to unload.

      He has a much bigger crop than us.

Some interesting facts about olive oil:

Olive oil will soon become rancid in the light and heat. Buy the best quality extra virgin olive oil and store in dark tinted bottles in a cool cupboard.

Olives were first grown in Crete between 5 and 7 thousand years ago.

There are about 700 cultivated varieties of olives. Wild ones are much smaller.

The tastes can vary from peppery to nutty, grassy or like green apples.

It can provide food, fuel, timber and medicine, and is a preservative.

You can use it as a furniture polish. Mix 2 tablespoons olive oil with 1 tablespoon lemon juice or white vinegar. Place in a spray bottle, shake well. Spray furniture lightly. Wipe off with a clean cloth or kitchen roll.

Olive oil has about 120 calories per tablespoon but unlike other cooking oils it is rich in vitamins A and E, and actually good for you.

It is a staple in the Mediterranean diet, and known to reduce the risk of heart disease. It is mono unsaturated, rich in vitamins, iron, oleic acid, sodium and potassium, and can improve circulation and lower blood pressure.

Olive oil has many other health giving properties. It is good for the digestion, helps to lower blood sugar levels, and can even be used to relieve the pain of burns, itches, stings and insect bites.

Best of all, olive oil encourages cellular growth, helps healing and slows down the aging process.

Olive oil as a beauty aid: 

For dry and brittle hair 
After shampooing, rinse your hair with a mix of half a cup of olive oil and beaten egg. Leave on for 15 minutes covered with a plastic cap before rinsing clean.

Hair conditioner
Warm half a cup of olive oil and apply liberally to your hair. Wrap in a towel for 30 minutes, then shampoo and rinse thoroughly.

Add 1 tablespoon of olive oil to 2 tablespoons fresh cream. Smooth on the face and leave for 10 minutes. Wash your face with warm water.

Brittle nails
Soak your nails in a small bowl of warm olive oil with a squeeze of lemon or rose water, to add a nice scent.

Olive oil is also good for softening hands and feet, moisturising cuticles, removing mascara and eye liner, or mix with a touch of lavender essential essence and add to your bath water. It can be used in place of shaving cream, will clear up acne (add 4 tablespoons of salt to 3 tablespoons of olive oil), and even loosen chewing gum from hair.

Olive oil is a miracle product provided for us by nature.


Book collecting on a Budget

A while ago I was clearing out my loft when I came across some old Enid Blyton books I had enjoyed as a child. Needless to say, the clearing out went to pot and I spent the rest of the morning in happy pursuit of childhood pleasures. Since then I have begun to collect secondhand books, finding them in unexpected and fascinating places.

What makes book collecting exciting is that you don't have to be an expert seeking rare specimens. You can have just as much fun buying cheap paperbacks. And bookaholics like myself still love to do that, even in this age of the Kindle and ebooks.

The first thing to do is choose your area of interest. It might be a particular subject such as the countryside, biographies, old cookery books or you may be a local history buff and collect books on your own region. I seem to be currently obsessed with books about the theatre, eighteenth century actresses and courtesans. I’ve no idea why but I just love reading about them.

Is there a particular author that you love? Find one who has a number of books to their credit to make them more interesting to collect, but it doesn't matter whether it's Agatha Christie, Lee Child or Georgette Heyer, so long as you like them. Or perhaps you wish to collect a certain type of fiction such as thrillers or romantic novels.

Old magazines are also fascinating. Maybe you love nostalgia and would enjoy collecting nursery or children's books. You can do this not only by author, but also by illustrator, period or by age group. Don't neglect the more modern or mundane classifications of books such as those connected with TV series, films or a much-loved character. Remember that today's books and magazines are tomorrow's collectors items.

Market stalls are an obvious starting point, but try also charity shops such as Oxfam, Red Cross and Help the Aged, who often have shelves of cheaply priced books, and you have the added pleasure of helping them every time you buy anything. Rummage sales are another rich source where you can often pick up real treasures at remarkably low prices. Try secondhand bookshops by all means, and any local book fairs, but set your sights low, at least until you know your material; expensive antiquarian bookshops are for the affluent.

Once you start looking, you'll be surprised just how many places have cheap collectable books. Get into the habit of going regularly, and you'll be on hand when something exciting turns up.

Don't be shy about asking relatives or friends. They may have just what you want tucked away in their attic or garage. Often they're glad of a chance to have a clear out and are pleased to see the books go to someone who will appreciate them. House sales or auctions often sell whole boxes of books for a pittance and you can have a lovely browse through them at home before selling the ones you don't want back to a market stall holder.

Having got into the swing of your collection, you will soon want to know more about your chosen subject. Collect all the information you can find on it. Newspaper and magazine cuttings are a good source as well as the internet. Keep a record of what you’ve bought, and how much you paid.

What should you look for when buying a book? How do you know if it's worth the price? What sort of condition should it be in? All these questions may puzzle the beginner, but they needn't. The question of price is the easiest to answer: as little as possible. At rummage sales you can pick up copies for a few pence, but the condition will be variable. At charity shops you may pay a little more but the condition will be better. In the trade there are various descriptions known as standard book conditions for grading secondhand books. Mint means that a book is perfect, complete with dust jacket and indistinguishable from a new copy. Fine means that it has a dust jacket and is in excellent condition but has clearly been read. A very good book may have no dust jacket or a faded cover, and one that is classed only as good will show definite signs of use but will be complete, with no pages missing. Finally, the book in poor condition may be warped, show signs of damp or mildew damage to the spine. It should nevertheless be a complete copy even if the title page is missing. If it is foxed, it will have brown stains, often caused by age.

Don't be put off buying a book simply because it is in poor condition. It may be more valuable than it at first appears, particularly if it has some good illustrations. Ladybird books are a good example, since the early editions are very collectable. But even if it has no great value other than as a reading copy, there is a good deal of pleasure to be derived from this alone. Times can change the situation if finer copies become rare. Collectors on a tight budget shouldn't worry about looking for first editions or mint copies. Buy what you fancy. Try for a good copy, but if you find a title you want in poor condition, pay less.

Books are going to become even more rare in this digital age, so start collecting now.

There is always the possibility that you might find something really valuable. A friend of mine once discovered an old copy of Peter Rabbit, autographed by Beatrix Potter herself.