Where has this year gone to? We have hit the olive harvest season and I am not really prepared for it. The trees are laden and the fruits are fat and healthy. If only I could persuade the three dogs to get their paws at the ready and get picking instead of lazing about in the sunshine. Every year we say that we will fix the harvest dates in advance, call in an army of friends and get those trees cleaned off with little stress. However, it is impossible to know exactly when will be the optimum moment to pick. This year is one of those bumper crop years so we need many hands and while the weather is dry and the fruits are not fly-infested we should get to work. Our favourite mill, Baussy in Speracèdes, does not open till the end of the month for small farmers and not till 6th November for those who are bringing in loads of a minimum of 180 kilos. For such a load we can claim a single-estate pressing, which is what we always aim for. The reason this is important to us is because we run the estate organically and because our fruits are of a high calibre. I learned today, when I spoke to a lady at the mill, that these days, because farming habits are changing year by year due to climate change, most small olive holdings deliver organic fruits. Not only is this branch of farming shifting steadily towards eschewing chemicals because of the health hazards that come along with pesticide use, but the costs involved in spraying the trees is too high, particularly for those who are not operating their groves as commercial operations.
Even so, I prefer to opt for a single-estate pressing because I have confidence in how our fruits have been cared for. They have not been bruised or squashed during the picking process and they have not been left in the crates for days on end before delivering to the mill for pressing. These small details make a difference to the acid level of the fruits and consequently the quality of the oil and whether or not it will have its Extra Virgin ticket. Oils with an acid level of more than 0.8% cannot claim to be extra virgin. This is why delivering the fruits for pressing as soon as possible after they have left the olive branches is vital.
So, here’s the conundrum we are always up against: how many pickers do we need to bring in, within forty-eight hours, a minimum load of 180 kilos of healthy fruits? Each year it is different because it depends upon the speed of the pickers, how laden the trees are, how far one loaded tree is from the next, how windy it is. Etc.
The vagaries of any kind of farming!
So the days are upon us and I am calling friends from as far afield within Europe as Ireland and Berlin. We’ll see. By this time next week I hope we will have picked clean many of the trees. And that is another concern: we need to nab the fruits before the birds start feeding on them. I am keeping a beady eye out for magpies.
Here is an up-to-date photograph of Samson, our adopted Tibetan Mastiff. How many letters and notes I have received since I first posted pics of him. Thank you. So in answer to all your enquiries, the Big Lad is settling in well and, as you can probably see, has put on a great deal of weight. He is still not the best of friends with Homer, our male German Shepherd, and Cardea, our little mongrel girl. Samson keeps himself apart, usually very close to the food boxes. He is exceedingly loving and seems to be very content here. Our dog food bills have more than doubled but no one is complaining, least of all Samson; we are delighted he found his home with us and, in return, we receive bundles of affection. When he raids the dog-food larders, I try to get cross with him but he just pants and rubs himself against my legs. He is never cowed by Carol’s strict voice.
A Date for your Diary:
If you are in France this autumn, or if you are intending to be here over the weekend of 16th, 17th, 18th November, Michel, my husband, is the artistic president of a new environmental film festival which is taking place in the beautiful old city of Metz in eastern France. The festival is called Ma Planète.
I have been fortunate to preview one or two of the films in the programme and they are stunning. The films to be screened tackle questions about our environment in diverse ways. Do keep an eye out on my FB and Twitter pages over the next few weeks to receive updates on this festival. Make a weekend of it in Metz, come along and see us there.
My Book News:
My new novel has a title. Hooray! Penguin preferred not to go with my proposed title and have suggested another so, after email debate, the novel has now been rechristened THE HOUSE ON THE EDGE OF THE CLIFF. I must say, I really like it. What do you think?
Publication date is set for 16th May 2019 and I will be out and about doing a few events in the UK and Ireland to drum up enthusiasm and hopefully sell plenty of books. Please keep an eye on my Events page on the website and please come along if you see that I will be attending a festival or signing books somewhere near you. Pop in and say hello.
Above is the working jacket. As soon as the real one has been revealed, I will post it.
There is nothing quite as exciting as a chrysalis shedding its skin and taking wing as a butterfly. All the months and months of hard work – or, in my case, more than a year because I am a little slow – suddenly is readying itself for lift-off. My editors are sending through thoughts, notes, dates, ideas, calling the characters by the names I have created … it is thrilling. Even after, whatever it is, twenty-three or twenty-four books – I have lost count, I still feel that buzz of expectancy. Soon, the book will no longer be mine. It goes to the reader, and that is both a very special moment and scary.
This novel is a little different to my earlier work. My editor has described it as “epic with sumptuous, descriptions” and “nail-biting, unnerving”. I am very excited for you to get your hands on it and send me your feedback. For that, though, we must wait until May.
Meanwhile, I am sketching thoughts and ideas for the next novel. Hard work, but I am very fortunate to have these opportunities and I try never to forget that.
So, I am leaving my desk now, am off outside to wash the olive crates and begin dragging out the ladders in readiness for the arrival of friends for the Olive Farm harvest of 2018. Let us hope it will be a “grand cru”.
Thank you for reading this. Be well, enjoy every day, look out for the small miracles that make each day a gift. We live in turbulent times. The best way to combat such detrimental energies is to seek out the good, the positive, the loving.