Edible Marin and Wine Country Fall 2011 : Page 42

Clockwise from top left: Olive harvesters at work; Jim Williams; the author’s daughter and a friend. WHIMSY AND CARE The Making of an Olive Harvest Party BY KIRSTEN JONES NEFF I t all started with a gift Indian Valley resident Jim Wil-liams bought for his wife, Louise: a coffee-table book about the history of olive cultivation in California. “It was very whimsical,” says Jim, about his original interest in olives. “When Louise saw the book she asked me, ‘So, are we planting olive trees?’ and, well, when I get involved with something I am usually a little bit over the top.” As Jim’s next-door neighbor, I can vouch for that. Over the past seven years I have seen him emerge from his home office repeatedly from dawn to dusk, pruning shears on his belt. He walks his front and back orchards, observing and tending the five varieties of trees: Frantoios, Leccinos, Marinos, Pendolinos and Coratinas. The original impulse may have been whimsi-cal, but the way Jim works year round—pruning, applying organic fertilizers and inspecting for insects—is meticulous. Then, each year on the Sunday before Thanksgiving, they appear: the olive harvesters. These are the friends and family who stream down the gravel driveway in the early morning 42 | EDIBLE MARIN & WINE COUNTRY FALL 2011 Photos: Left top and bottom: Kirsten Jones Neff; right, Ryan Williams, www.ryanwilliamsphotography.com

Whimsy and Care

Kirsten Jones Neff

The Making of an Olive Harvest Party

It all started with a gift Indian Valley resident Jim Williams bought for his wife, Louise: a coffee-table book about the history of olive cultivation in California.

"It was very whimsical," says Jim, about his original interest in olives. "When Louise saw the book she asked me, 'So, are we planting olive trees?' and, well, when I get involved with something I am usually a little bit over the top."

As Jim's next-door neighbor, I can vouch for that. Over the past seven years I have seen him emerge from his home office repeatedly from dawn to dusk, pruning shears on his belt. He walks his front and back orchards, observing and tending the five varieties of trees: Frantoios, Leccinos, Marinos, Pendolinos and Coratinas. The original impulse may have been whimsical, but the way Jim works year round–pruning, applying organic fertilizers and inspecting for insects–is meticulous.

Then, each year on the Sunday before Thanksgiving, they appear: the olive harvesters. These are the friends and family who stream down the gravel driveway in the early morning light, wearing gloves and carrying baskets. Teenagers (including my own) gab excitedly. Small children toddle along behind their parents and grandparents. This is the day of the Williamses' annual harvest party. Louise cooks all week in preparation and lays out a table of Italian-themed dishes: frittatas, antipastos and biscotti. Conversations start up, hands move from tree to basket and, by late afternoon, the bins in the back of Jim's old orange Ford are full of gorgeous green and purple olives. In 2010, the Williamses' 65 trees yielded 1,700 pounds of olives. That translates into 72 liters of Williams Extra Virgin Organic Olive Oil, designated specially for the very same olive harvesting friends and family.

"Some years it will be more robust, some years a little softer," says Jim, explaining that because they do not sell commercially they can experiment with harvesting at the same time every year. "Luckily, we like it both ways," he continues. The Williams have benefited greatly from the expertise of nearby McEvoy Ranch olive growers–especially that of specialist Samantha Dorsey, who has helped Jim make decisions every step of the way. The Williams schedule their annual custom press at McEvoy for the Monday following the harvest party.

For those of us who like a lot of punch in our oil, last year's fresh-off-the press Williams Extra Virgin Olive Oil was good enough to sip. "Louise and I get our reward every day," says Jim. "Toast, marmalade and a little olive oil–that's a perfect breakfast combination."

Kirsten Jones Neff is a journalist, poet, and middle school gardening teacher at the Novato Charter School. She feels extraordinarily lucky to live with her family in a small rural corner of northern Marin County. Links to her work and organic gardening and food blog can be found at www.kirstenjonesneff.com.

Read the full article at http://onlinedigeditions.com/article/Whimsy+and+Care/838589/82027/article.html.

Previous Page  Next Page


Publication List
Using a screen reader? Click Here