A highland fling

our wee adventure on the Black Isle

Changing times

It’s harvest time in Yunquera! The sound of tree shakers reverberates throughout the campo, and you see men setting the nets, or preparing a campo lunch, everywhere. As you drive by the cooperative, you see canastas full of olives, ready to be pressed. It’s a comforting sight – money in the pocket in time for Christmas (if you sell your olives), and your family’s olive oil barrel full of delicious golden oil for the coming year.

When we first moved here in 2003, the mills wouldn’t even be open yet. Why? Well, it was customary here to pick olives when they were all black, which sometimes would be as late as February. This made for olive oil that was golden yellow, and very smooth and soft tasting – the taste that was preferred in Yunquera.


Harvest 2015

We were thought odd, as we would pick the first half of our crop in mid-December, then the second half after the New Year. We preferred an oil that was fresher and slightly greener in taste, so picked when our olives were half green/half black.

This year we have noticed a huge change. Our olives are picked and pressed already – the entire crop picked in November, the earliest ever! I’ve seen loads of farmers doing the same, and the canastas at the mill are full of (mostly green) olives.

Why the change, we wonder? Is the price for olives better this year, so farmers are picking early to get the best price? Is it that farmers here have finally recognised that those buying their oil now prefer a ‘grassier’, greener oil? Is it that local tastes have changed in line with this global preference?

I don’t know, but to me, it shows that even in a remote village like Yunquera tastes and customs regularly change !


Olive harvest 2014

It’s looking like a terrific harvest this year, even though we had our trees trimmed earlier this year. The olives are big and healthy, despite the lack of rain. This seems to differ from most of the rest of Europe, where olives are scarce, and they are already warning of an olive oil shortage next year.

Ann even manages a smile on day 5 of olive picking!

Not picking olives this year, Annie – roll on 2015

It makes me laugh. You would expect that, with a worldwide shortage of olives, the price of olives would rise. We went to our local mill, to see if that was the case, but nooooooo. They will give only 40 cents/kilo, even less than last year!

With my breast cancer treatment taking so much time, we are unable to get out and pick ourselves. (Although I did briefly consider doing it during my ‘good week’ last week! Kenton says it shows how utterly mad I am!)

So what is happening to our crop this year? Given away, my friends. This hurts a lot, but I console myself with the fact that it means some friends who have no work can sell the olives for whatever they can get. This is important in an isolated mountain community – sticking together in time of need, and helping friends and neighbours. As our friend Manuel says, after all, you never know when you might need help yourself.

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Baby, it’s cold outside!

One thing that comes as a surprise to most people is that it’s not always warm in southern Spain. Or, at least in our little corner of it, it’s not always warm! Or sunny. Or dry.

On the coast, I’m sure it’s  a different story, but here on our mountain, winter is most decidedly here. Last week we had Ark-style rain. This week, it’s dry, but the usual winter story of very windy and cold.

Loading the truck

Bringing olive wood up to the house

The end of this week, it will be colder yet. Highs of 9-11° C, lows of 1-3°. Add to that the wind chill factor, and it is extremely cold!

Now I know that my midwestern family and friends will scoff at these temperatures!

Call that cold?

they’ll say.

To a certain extent, they are right. But the midwest is geared up for cold, and southern Spain isn’t. The houses are meant to keep heat out, not cold, so insulation is not common. We are lucky in that we have central heating and double-glazed windows and doors, but those also are rare!

So we’ll be turning the heating up, lighting the fire early, and bundling up!


The olive harvest cometh

Oh. My. God. Just when we thought we would have a poor harvest, due to the heavy pruning we did early in the year, we found out today we were totally wrong!

Casa Tyr olives

Casa Tyr olives (photo by Kenton@imagenary.co.uk)

Thinking about it, it makes sense. With olives, you have ‘off’ and ‘on’ years. Last year was our ‘off’ year, and, indeed, we only picked for 2 days. Even though we pruned, this is our ‘on’ year, and those trees are happy, happy, happy about being pruned.

The men of the house scouted the territory yesterday – Kenton, Milo and Freddy. They walked the length and breadth of the land to see what the crop was like. The verdict? Estupendo!

We are short a man this year, or woman, really – Kenton and I usually do the harvest on our own, but with my recent diagnosis of breast cancer, we decided I should sit it out.

So this year, a different solution is needed, so watch this space.

Cooking boredom

Here at Casa Tyr, we love to cook.

We don’t eat out very often, we never eat at fast food places, and we never buy convenience food. It’s not just being virtuous, we feel it takes no more time to whip up something delicious than it does to microwave a couple of packaged meals. And homemade certainly tastes better!

We also grow most of our own produce, so things naturally taste better, especially when cooked in our very own, delicious Yunquera Gold olive oil!

This time of year, however, we are struggling a bit. We really don’t like to buy vegetables, so the period between the end of our own asparagus, cauli and broccoli, and the beginning of the summer veg is a bit of a dry spell.

Cheat's sun-dried tomatoes

Last years sun-dried tomatoes (photo by Kenton@imagenary.co.uk)

Right now, for example, we have our own wonderful potatoes, garlic and onions, just picked and waiting for us. So there are loads of things to do with those!  But other vegetables? No, not ready yet.

Salads made without your own lettuce, peppers and tomatoes have no flavour. Vegetables bought from the supermarket are limp and flavourless, or at least we think so!

So right now, we’re bored. Come on, tomatoes, do your lovely stuff and ripen….soon!

Olive harvest looms, bring on the kumla!

We walked the land on Sunday, to check out the state of the olive harvest. If this year’s crop goes according to custom, you get a year “on” and a year “off”, and this should be the off year.

Sure enough, the crop is much smaller than last year, in which we had a bumper harvest. We certainly believe we have enough for a press, but not much more than that. That’s ok, though, because that makes life more interesting – never knowing for sure what’s there, until the very last minute! In fact, even now we can’t be sure of the crop, because if these strong winds continue, then the riper olives are blown off the tree. Not to mention the fact that you can’t lay the nets under the tree in high winds!

It will just be the two of us again this year, as the crop size doesn’t warrant hiring help. That is both good and bad. It saves us money, and it’s a great feeling of accomplishment when the work is done. But man, oh man, is it hard work! Hopefully both dogs will be up to helping, as usual – but with Fitz still battling lymphoma, he may not have the energy to tromp around the hills all day.

I guess this means I better get busy planning those high-calorie meals that you need to keep working all day. I usually cook ahead for the week, as at the end of the day we are way too tired to cook!


Kumla, photo courtesy of food.com

So the hearty foods come into their own now – chilli, stew, and my own personal favourite from my childhood, kumla. That will really make my brother jealous!

The photo shown is not my own kumla, but taken from food.com. Note that the vegetables on the plate would not ever be on the Swedish table – salad in winter? I don’t think so!

Total busy-ness

That’s right, you spelling and grammar pedants, I said “busy-ness” and meant it. After all, if I meant to write “business”, I would have done so, right? You betcha.

Kenton and I thought that last year was really, really busy, but in comparison to this year, it was a walk in the park! 2013 is shaping up to be our busiest year ever, and it’s only February! So what do we have to do, you wonder?

We have the farm, first and foremost. 22 acres of olive trees, forest and garden to take care of. OK, the forest takes care of itself, but we still have to strim the path and check for fallen trees, etc.

The olive trees need a haircut this year, which involves hiring specialists to properly prune the trees. We follow along after them to cut off the small branches (which we burn) and log the bigger branches for firewood for the winter. Nothing is wasted! It’s a lot of work though, and not made easier by the fact that our two 40+ kilo boxers like to play tug of war with one end of the branches when we are trying to drag them to the pile!

The chestnut trees also need a prune, which we do ourselves. This involves Kenton climbing the tree with the chain saw to cut the big branches, which we then log for firewood. Precarious, and hard work!

Then comes the veggie garden. Soon, we’ll be planting our cauli, cabbage and broccoli. And our potatoes, onions and garlic. Add to that weeding of same. Add to that planting summer veg seeds in the greenhouse, for planting out in May. Ditto on the weeding.

We also have some house projects planned. We are installing central heating (=grandchild visit), which means building a boiler house, installing piping and radiators, and so on. We also want to tidy the outside and the herb garden, and build a couple of walls to tidy the pool area. We want to put stone on the wall of the stairwell, and of course, there is the usual painting to do.

Of course, then we also have Lujos – marketing, PR, making and posting orders, developing new products. Kenton is also planning on expanding the Lujos agent network this year, which means spec-ing the role and interviewing candidates.

Add to that group visits from a chef from the Culinary Institute of America (to talk about pork, wine and olive oil), a ladies group from Trabuco (Lujos), 4 Dutch groups (olive oil and Lujos), and whoever else is interested. Each group has a tour of the land, homemade snacks, and usually a soap or cream-making demonstration. They are a lot of fun, but also hard work!

This year I am also helping the great guys at Simple Click while one of the team is on maternity leave. That means working from home, taking calls, answering emails, testing software, and managing development projects.

Kenton has his numerous photography projects, as well as a top-secret idea he is developing for a Very Important Person in the UK. Watch this space!

Last, but certainly not least, we have numerous visits to England to see our new granddaughter Matilda, and (of course) our daughter Peggy and her husband Dan. They welcome us into their home, and we repay them by cooking them loads of super meals.


Getting to know Miss Matilda

Kenton and I feel it’s so crucial during this first year of Matilda’s life for us to become fast friends, and so far this policy is working very well. Kenton and I play with her, cuddle her, smile at her, talk to her, read her books, feed her, and anything else we can think of! She’s a real little charmer.

So yes, it is looking like a busy year. I get the feeling we should have started working on some of these projects yesterday! I am already planning my nervous breakdown.