Always wanting to be properly dressed, I searched my closet for a replica of what Lucy wore when she and Ethel stomped grapes. It was the closest activity I could associate with my first olive harvest.
Planted in my backyard in humid Alabama for less than a year, I didn’t expect the little olive tree to bear fruit, but it came through with Southern determination and American spirit. I watched over the summer as the little green olives turned brown, then a glistening ruby black.
Not common in our neck of the woods, I first saw an olive tree on the campus of Berkeley in California which is a long story for another day. Years later, after a trip to Italy — where I fit in much better than I did at Berkeley, I saw olive trees with anciently gnarled trunks. It was love at second sight.
My friend who is a landscaper said he had a “connection” to get me a tree, but alas, it was at the beginning of the pandemic and for some reason, the little tree wasn’t allowed to cross state lines. Obviously, I had ordered forbidden fruit, which made me want it even more. Eve and I had more in common than I thought.
I substituted a Pineapple Guava tree, which was beautiful, but Hurricane Sally tossed it so far away, we never found it. A few months later, Olive trees were approved to cross into Alabama territory, and I planted my little tree just outside the back door.
Every week I’d check the status of the fruit. They looked like grapes, but felt like rocks.
What else does a Southern woman do with olives, but plan an olive party? I bought beautiful jars and bags of salt for brining and planned the ultimate cocktail party with my mother’s recipe for little baked olives inside a cheese-straw pastry. Olive tapenade with crackers would look pretty and go well with cheese from a local farm. A few clipped branches would make a stunning centerpiece, representing peace, of course. I’d request my guests wear olive green and come prepared to recite a poetic line about the tiny fruit. I have unique friends who would do that for me.
Everything I read said to harvest the olives in late September, but I should have trusted my instincts. Due to our Southern heat, the crop was ready a month earlier, but while I obediently waited, torrential rains beat at least 2 gallons of my crop into the prickly rose bushes where they shriveled. Devastated yet determined, I donned the peasant blouse and prepared to pick what was left of my first crop.
Here’s what I’ve learned; if you’ve ever been to the Piggly Wiggly and found a jar of olives for less than $357 dollars, grab it. It’s a bargain. But I’ll hang on to that peasant blouse because next year’s crop is sure to be bigger and better than the first. As I sat in the kitchen sadly staring at the giant jar filled with perhaps three measly cups of brining olives, my husband whispered, “Olive you very much.” And so far, that’s the best part about being an olive farmer in Alabama.
This story first appeared in AL.com newspapers