September 2009

Wild olive tree, Wellington, Western Cape, South Africa

There are few moments that match the sense of release I feel after my latest book has been delivered and an email comes winging back a few days later from my editor with the message, ‘LOVE it!’  Hooray!

My new book is about living off the fruits of the land and the challenges of sustainable development – respecting Nature’s needs as well as our own.  Return to the Olive Farm recounts my experiences back at Appassionata beyond my Mediterranean travels and it will be published in 2010.

Aside from that, and all the articles to write, farm work to contend with, trips to prepare (please see the Events Page and come along and say hello wherever you are!), it is holiday time. Summer continues here in southern France. Early September remains almost peak season and we have been enjoying temperatures in the high eighties. How to spend this precious time? I am hopeless at lying about in the garden, sunbathing. I need to be active particularly after months chained to my desk.

Having stared from my den throughout the early summer at the overripe oranges still hanging from the trees, I have finally removed the last of them to make room for all the small globes growing fast into deep green fruits. I decided to try a little experiment and left one hundred pips to soak for a few days. Then, after drying them in the warm air, I planted them in earth in small terracotta pots in the greenhouse. To my amazement dozens of seedlings have shot up and are already close to four inches tall, all with shiny leathery leaves. Surely I am not the only one who stands back in amazement at the fact that anything I plant actually grows?

I am now swotting up on citrus grafting and wondering what to do with so many seedlings. I was hoping for one or two, but am now dreaming of mandarins, grapefruits, sweet oranges, limes. If they all grow, I’ll be giving them away – watch this space!

I found this wild olive tree near Wellington, Western Cape, South Africa. Quite a substantial specimen

Our elephantine fig tree has gone mad this year and we have enjoyed sheets of fruits. They don’t keep long and are difficult to transport so I cannot take them on aircrafts to London or Paris and hand them out to friends. Again, the question is, how not to waste them? Many are stolen by the birds, which is fine by us. There are more than sufficient for all our needs. The other evening I was outside watering and heard such a rumpus that I ran to see whether the dogs had got themselves into yet another brawl with the neighbouring Rottweiler.   Not at all. There was a crowd bouncing about within the fig tree branches, half-hidden behind the generous leaves, squabbling and pushing: one mahogany-coloured squirrel, two magpies, a few wood pigeons and a couple of ring-collared turtle doves. ‘There’s plenty for all of you,’ I shouted, but they took no notice of me. Well, the doves took off but the others stayed to battle it out.
I have been arriving at dinner parties with bottles of olive oil and bags bulging with figs, but still the quantity never seems to diminish. I have never attempted to make fig wine before but I am going to give it a try. I have been emboldened by the fact that I have the first, yet-to-be decanted litres of apricot brandy fermenting in the summer kitchen. Our one very generous tree gave us close to ninety kilos of apricots this year. I am hoping these home-made liqueurs will keep everyone merry throughout the Christmas season. Apricot sorbet will be one of my next challenges and fig ice cream. If any of you reading this have other suggestions or delicious recipes, please do send them to me.

Our tomatoes have been plentiful, too, and the cucumbers are climbing up and about the greenhouse like steeplejacks. I have had to use the step ladder to harvest some of these fruits. Michel and I have been enjoying Lebanese breakfasts of sliced cucumbers and tomatoes lubricated with our olive oil. Terrifically healthy and all direct from the garden.

Out amongst the vineyards of South Africa’s Western Cape

This is our first year growing watermelons. I cannot explain why but there is something delightful and surprising about watching these green balloons inflate. Day by day, their growth on the ground is visible. They are so big while the vine-like climbers, from which they grow, extending in yards across the terrace, seem so fragile. My greatest fear has been that the wild boars would trespass and squash them but clearly those hefty pigs are not interested for they have left them alone all summer and the fruits are now almost ready for harvesting. But what to do with them? We have nine, one from each vine and I will not be able to fit them all in a fridge. I think watermelon sorbet could be delicious so if anyone has a recipe I would be thrilled to hear from you.

I am now at work on two fabulous projects: a ten-hour documentary film series for television with UNESCO patronage that will recount in high-definition film my travels and discoveries for the two books, The Olive Route and The Olive Tree. It is extremely exciting and we are in the process of gathering together a fine team of people from all around the Mediterranean to work on the project with us.

A fellow guest at my hotel in Cape Town. This tortoise is over forty years old

Since I began writing this newsletter, I have arrived in South Africa. I am here on a book tour to promote the entire Olive series and in particular, The Olive Tree, and the response has been terrific. Here, in South Africa, as in New Zealand and Australia, there are many olive farms, young plantations, and their farmers seem keen to be in touch with me and I am thrilled to hear their news and to interact with them.
The last thought on my mind was that I would continue my quest here in South Africa for ancient olive trees but last Saturday after I had completed my talk at the Cape Times Literary Lunch several of the guests came to tell me of wild trees growing in the Western Cape. I hired a car that very afternoon and set off into the winelands in search of them. North beyond Wellington, out on a lonely, winding road known as Bain’s Kloof Pass, I spotted a verdant valley and nature reserve. I parked up the car and set off on a mini-hike. There were many wild olives there, some older than others but it was difficult for me to judge their precise age. A couple of centuries perhaps? Still, it was exciting because it ignited my imagination and my belief that perhaps as the earliest of men moved north up through Africa towards the Mediterranean and Europe, the bitter fruit of the olive, its leaves too, were with him.
Might this be the seed for another of my travel books?  Meanwhile, I am at work on a trilogy of novels set in France during the twentieth century.

So, the future is very busy for me – and bright! Return to the Olive Farm  will be in the shops, early summer 2010. All being well, the documentary television series will begin shooting in the spring of 2010 while the first book in the fiction trilogy is due to be published in the summer of 2011.

If you have not yet joined us on Facebook, please go to OLIVE FARM and sign up. There is a very lively group there and you will have the opportunity to ask me questions, tell me your news, and meet a terrific bunch of people from many walks of life and nations.

Stay in touch with me and thank you for all your letters!  Carol

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