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 !


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.

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!

Autumnal musings


It’s the time of year that always feels like a ‘winding down’ to me. The vegetable garden is winding down, the plants look sad, the produce is soft and sometimes unusable. The flowers look sad. The trees are turning. The evenings draw in earlier.

It’s a gorgeous time of year, too, with the leaves turning colour and starting to fall off the trees. The sunsets are prettier, as there are usually a few clouds in the evening. The heat haze is gone now, so we can see all the way to the ocean from our upstairs terrace.

It’s a necessary change, though. We usually get most of our rain in the autumn and winter, and after the summer’s drought, we’re desperate for moisture. Also, if we don’t get the cold weather, the ‘bichos’ aren’t killed off, so the insect problem is doubled next year.

The herbs and Lujos botanicals are still going strong, which is nice. We’re still picking calendula and lavender, which I dry to make infusions or to put into soap. The sage has really been appreciating the slightly cooler weather we’ve been having – during the heat of summer, I was afraid I’d lost it, it looked so sad! The rosemary is rich with oil now, and full of flavour.

On the very positive side, the olive harvest is coming up soon, and so far, it’s looking like a good year. It is very hard work (Kenton dreads it), but I get a masochistic pleasure out of the sore muscles, the tired nights, and the sore feet! I like it because it is so rewarding to see the olives falling into the nets, and to bring the jugs of our very own olive oil home. 

My mother used to be amazed (and probably amused) that the daughter who avoided the outdoors at all costs moved to Spain to become a farmer. After all, making olive oil is a pretty unusual thing for a South Dakota girl to be doing, so it’s a good thing I love it!



And so the harvest is gathered

Kenton shaking a tree

It’s been a tough year for us at Casa Tyr, as I’m sure my regular readers will know. Family members ill, surgery for us, friends suffering in the economic crisis.

So it was with some trepidation that we started the olive harvest. We do this every year at around the same time – in fact, we’ve started earlier this year, almost as soon as we returned from a visit to the UK.

Why do we start the harvest earlier, you may ask? Well, blame the wind. Every year since we moved to Spain, we have grown olives – watched them grow, fertilised them, talked to them, loved them, pruned them, and in general waited for our just rewards.

And the result? Variable. We could never tell from year to year if we would even get enough for a pressing. Each year, just as the olives would get really ripe, the January winds would rip them from the trees, leaving us gazing sadly at the plump, ripe black olives on the ground.

So the last couple of years, we’ve picked earlier, to try to beat the weather. It’s worked, at least for the past 2 years we’ve tried the new system – we ensure we get a press, and if there are still enough olives left, we’ll pick in January.

This year, we almost didn’t make it. The winds were cruel to us, enabling us to pick until about lunchtime, then picking the nets up to the extent it was impossible to work. At long last, we made it, and should be collecting our new oil from the press soon.

Casa Tyr olives

Olives at harvest

Next year? Maybe that theatrical group from NYC will show up and help us pick, how great would that be?! My cousin threatens to conduct competitions, with all her friends in costume, so that we pick the harvest in record time. Now that I can’t wait to see!

The sounds of olive harvest

Yesterday I told you all about the smells of olive harvest time, so today we will talk about another of the senses!

It’s all about the sounds of olive harvest. What, you ask? The sounds of olive leaves gently rustling in the breeze? How idyllic.

Well, no. Today’s sound has to do with the reason I am writing this blog rather than harvesting! WIND! No, not your gentle breeze, not even a light wind. It’s a screaming, howling 60km/h wind. Why can’t we pick olives in the wind? To understand, you need to form a mental picture of a man with a tree shaker (Kenton) poised to shake the tree. Then you have one lady (me) trying to hold 60 square meters of nets in position under the tree to catch the olives.

It might seem an amusing scenario to you, but it is just not possible. We have picked in 40km/h winds, which usually involves both of us shaking our fists at the wind (note to self: the wind is not a good listener). Anything higher than that just won’t work.

So wind. Right. Not good.

Kent shaking tree

Using a bareadora to shake the tree

Another sound of the olive harvest is the sound of the ‘bareadora’. This is a handy hand-held machine that hooks around a branch and shakes it, quickly causing the olives to drop into the nets (or on the dogs’ heads, as they like to sit peacefully under the trees as we shake!!). There are other ways of getting the olives off the trees, but this machine is the easiest for the small grower, so on a still day you can hear all the neighbours using them during harvest time.

The other sound of olive harvest revolves around the dogs. As you probably know, we have 2 rather large boxer dogs. They love to work outdoors with us, and one of their very favourite activities is picking olives. Or, rather, they like to : eat the occasional olive. They like to : sit on the nets and sun themselves. They like to : push Kenton down the hill as he stoops to pick up stray olives. They like to : sit on the nets while we drag them from tree to tree. (this last trick was pretty cute when they were puppies, but not so fun when each dog weighs over 40 kilos!)

So the dog sounds during olive harvest involve a lot of barking and snorting. An associated sound is Kenton yelling at the dogs to stop jumping on him, and to get off the nets!

It’s all good fun until about 10am on the first day, after which it swiftly becomes tiresome!


The smell of olive harvest

OK, so really, the olive harvest (and the olives themselves) do not really smell, but I had to think of a catchy title, right?

Right now, I’m thinking of the chores we have to do in advance of the olive harvest. We have to do all the grocery shopping, as during the week we are way too tired to go into town to shop. Now it’s true that we often shop in advance, but this week we have to make really surewe have enough bread, lunch stuff, tea bags, coffee and so on to last the week.

Casa Tyr olives

Olives at Casa Tyr, ready for picking!

We also have to cook ahead. We no longer try to cook ahead for the whole week, but we certainly do try to cook dinners for the first few days, as that is when we are the most tired. The one really unusual dish that I cook every year about this time is … Kumla !! My Swedish grandmother used to make it, and my mother used to make it, too (under protest, I think, as I don’t really think she enjoyed eating it that much!)

In fact, I use the very same recipe that my mother copied down from watching my grandmother make kumla. The recipe is even written in my mother’s handwriting, so as you might imagine, it’s pretty precious to me. I make it every year for the harvest, and so the smell of it cooking brings to mind the olive harvest (see, now you get the title, right!?)

So what is kumla, you ask? It’s kind of a heavy potato dumpling. Even Kenton likes it now, although he still calls it an “odd dish”. We serve our kumla with pork chops, and it’s a filling and satisfying dish after a hard day picking olives!

It smells pretty good, too.

Selma Larson’s Kumla Recipe (slightly modified by me)

Pork chops
5-6 large potatoes, peeled and grated
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
2-3 cups flour
1 cup corn meal (up to 1/2 cup more if necessary)

Cut the bones from the pork chops, and boil the bones in lots of water, with 1 1/2 tsp salt and some all spice. When cooked, remove the pork from the bones and set aside the meat. Save the meat broth.

After grating the potatoes, squeeze the gratings hard to remove the starchy liquid. Mix the potatoes and the remaining ingredients with your hands – add more or less flour and corn meal, depending on how dry your potatoes are.

Form the mixture into balls (about the size of a tennis ball), putting a small piece of the pork meat in the middle. Make sure you form really hard balls of the mix, or they will fall apart during cooking. Drop into the boiling meat broth and simmer for about an hour or until potatoes are done.

We like to split the kumla in half and fry in the pork chop drippings.