A pressing matter

Twenty-two Mallorcan olives rolled around in the bottom of my bucket. Hardly what you’d call a crop, but – after several years of letting the olives from our young tree rot on the ground – I was determined to do something with the harvest of 2011. Google revealed some instructions for turning my hand-picked crop into a (very small) jar of olives steeped in rosemary-infused oil.

Biting the bullet

To this day, they’re still as hard as bullets and, according to The Boss (and he’s right), inedible. So I’ve pushed the jar to the back of one of the kitchen cupboards – where they’ll probably remain until the dreaded (and hopefully distant) day when we have to move out of our rural idyll for something less high-maintenance. By then, they might make a decent housewarming gift for whoever is lucky enough to buy our little finca . . .

Our friends Annie Sofiano and Martin Page – fellow Brits who moved to Mallorca to open an agroturismo (a country B&B) called Finca Son Jorbo (www.fincasonjorbo.com) – have had much better luck with their crop of olives. But dealing with their 306 olive trees (as opposed to our two) was a lot harder than they originally expected.

Having ignored the trees during the first six years of developing their business, they eventually decided to turn their attention to the neglected trees. “We knew that our farming neighbours were driving past and looking at them pointedly,” says Martin, “So we felt shamed into doing something.”

A Mallorcan masterclass

The tranquil Finca Son Jorbo – with its 306 olive trees

Martin’s farmer neighbour Miguel first gave the former TV production manager a three-hour masterclass in pruning. Then Martin set about pruning his trees, with Annie gathering and clearing the trimmings away to their bonfire site. It took six bonfires to burn it all. The subsequent weeding by hand, applying fertiliser, and spraying the trees to kill the olive-eating bugs, took the couple a considerable amount of time: “It was extremely hard work – especially for an interior designer from Birmingham!” Annie admits.

Miguel told them when the olives were ready, but reaping the harvest was done almost entirely by Martin and Annie. Once again, their generous Mallorcan neighbour offered his help, lending them some crates, the use of his trailer, and introducing Martin to the local tafona (olive press). To Miguel’s amazement, the couple had picked 400 kilos of olives, with little help: “It’s traditional here for the whole family to get involved,” Annie explains.

From olives to oil

It took four visits to transport the whole harvest to the tafona. On Martin’s last visit, Annie and his parents (who were staying with them at the time) came with him. They’d all spent the morning in Palma and, although Martin changed from his smart going-out clothes into working togs before going to the tafona, Annie went as she was. “As we were getting out of the car at the farmyard, I turned to her and said ‘lose the pashmina’,” Martin says. “In any event, she definitely got some funny looks!”

They paid around 27 cents a kilo for the pressing, which resulted in 63 litres of olive oil,  taken home in 10 large plastic containers, to sit in the cellar until they’d searched the Internet and bought bottles, tops, and a machine for sealing the tops.

As friends who’ve been lucky enough to enjoy some of their delicious Finca Son Jorbo olive oil, we’d suggest the effort had been worth it. Annie’s view? “The whole thing’s been a learning experience, but we know we’ve gone up in our Mallorcan neighbours’ estimations.”

You won’t be surprised to know that I haven’t mentioned my own olive endeavours to any of our neighbours . . .

No doubt Annie and Martin took advantage of Finca Son Jorbo’s pool

This article is an abridged version of one I wrote for the weekly edition of The Telegraph, published in March 2012.

Read more about Spanish olives on http://www.olivesfromspain.co.uk.

Pork talk

Here are just a few reasons why our Mallorcan farming neighbours in the valley are so great:

They often give us fruit and vegetables they’ve grown. On one occasion, while I was out for a walk and passed the finca of Toni and Maria, they came out and presented me with the world’s largest watermelon. So enormous was this magnificent fruit, that I had to carry it up the hill, pressed against my stomach and supported by both arms. By the time I staggered through the gates at home, I had an inkling how it must feel to be heavily pregnant . . .

They’re generous about sharing their knowledge and advice – on occasions, unsolicited. The Boss was once up a ladder, giving our almonds trees a long-overdue pruning – not something of which he’d had a lot of experience. Pedro stopped while driving past our finca to tell him where he was going wrong  . . .

They’re very honest. One day we were talking – in castellano – to a local couple who farm in the valley and sometimes stop for a chat when they’re passing. “You’re like a real Mallorcan now,” Margarita told me. I puffed out my chest in pride – my Spanish was obviously improving.  “Yes,” she reiterated. “Just like a Mallorcan woman!” And with that she patted my tummy . . . a reference to the fact that quite a few Mallorcans carry just a little bit too much weight around the middle. Brutally honest.

They’ve never invited us to a matanza. We’ve been invited into the homes of several Mallorcans for meals and various social occasions, but thankfully we’ve never been invited to a matanza – the slaughter and butchering of the family pig(s). This traditional event, which takes place around this time of year at farms and rural homes all over the island, is one I’d rather not witness, thank you. It’s an occasion for family and friends to gather and join in with the messy business of turning a perky pig into a pantry (or freezer) full of porky products for the coming months. The thought of being elbow deep in a large vat of squidgy pig bits is not for the squeamish . . . and certainly not for me.

It’s for the matanza that our local supermarket has stocked up with the necessary accessories (string, paprika and a white powder that prevents rancidity) for turning Peppa the Pig (don’t let your little ones read this) into Mallorcan delicacies such as llonganissa, botifarró, and sobrassada – a well-hung cured pork product flavoured with a generous quantity of paprika.

Sobrassada is emblematic of the island and adds great flavour when used in cooked dishes. It’s also popular spread thickly on rustic bread but, personally, I’d prefer a well-made crispy bacon sandwich. If only I could find one on Mallorca . . .

Sobrassada spread on rustic bread – a popular Mallorcan snack.