Did you know that olive trees can live more than a thousand years? The oldest olive tree lives on the Greek island of Crete. The Olive Tree of Vouves has an estimated age of 3000 years and continues to produce olives. The olive tree, Olea europaea, is a cultivated species of flowering tree grown for fruit and oil production. Olive trees originated in the Mediterranean basin nearly 7000 years ago. Today there are hundreds of cultivars grown all over the world. According to the American Olive Oil Producers Association, over 30,000 acres in the U.S. are dedicated to olive oil production and Texas accounts for 10 percent of that acreage.
The Spanish brought olives to the New World. Mexico and California climates were similar to European growing conditions. In these regions, the first orchards were planted. In America, olive oil production is 150 years old. Olives in Texas are a relatively new industry. Each year more acres are planted with a variety of cultivars from around the world. Olive trees are adaptable to a variety of conditions. The greatest worry for the Texas farmer is too much rain. Thankfully this year, abundant rains fell more to the east with ideal rain amounts in the central region. Texas olive farmers are predicting an excellent harvest for 2016. Now is the time to visit and take part in a Historic Texas Olive Harvest.
One of the most adaptable varieties of olive is the Arbequina from Spain. A smaller fruit on a lower growing tree yields a high production. Arbequinas are harvested early when most of the crop is green with some rose colored fruits. Harvest begins in September. Sandy Oaks Olive Orchard, 20 minutes south of San Antonio, provides tours Fridays and Saturdays during harvest season. The tour is lead by owner Saundra Winkour. Participants learn the history of olive cultivation in Texas and view the many varieties of olives growing on over 40 acres. The 30 minute tour guides the viewer from collecting the olives to clearing the fruit of leaves and twigs for the final step, the machine press. Visitors are invited to help harvest the trees. Volunteers receive a free lunch from the restaurant. We opted to picnic among the trees on the Farm to Table brined olives (the best I have ever tasted), olive bread, olive oil, olive tapenade, basil pesto, grapes, artisanal cheeses and meats with ice cold olive leaf tea. One can imagine a Mediterranean life under the blue skies of Texas.
Sandy Oaks Olive Orchard is open Friday and Saturday 11-3. Tours begin at 11:30 am in the fabulous gift shop filled with fancy olive oils for culinary and skin care use. Do not miss the samples of the delightful olive leaf tea, "supporting more antioxidants and health benefits than green tea." When the tour is over, order the farm to table plate for a transforming experience. Make time this season to experience a historic Texas olive harvest. If you are unable to visit one of the many Texas Olive Orchards in central Texas, you need not miss out on the delectable olive oil harvest. Stella Sola (Italian for Lone Star) is an excellent Extra Virgin Olive Oil from Texas Hill Country Olive Company. I buy it by the gallon from the Farmers Market, seriously I call in advance so they can bring me a couple gallons. I use all of it in 6 months
To learn more about the history of olive oil and why you should buy the "real thing," read the captivating novel by Tom Mueller about the world's first oil boom including the politics and powerful forces vying for control through ancient times up to the present day. Each book supports independent book stores in partnership with Bookshop.org A purchase helps support the journey at no additional cost to you.