The Château de Planque, our home and ministry center, came with an extensive terrain of 2.5 hectares (6.5 acres). Most of the land lies behind the buildings, sloping upwards into a granite ridge crest. A rock wall surrounds the property, including agricultural land and hunting grounds for nobles in bygone eras.
Directly behind the Château are six terraces–long and wide. We marvel at the ingenuity and the intensive labor required to create these flat land spaces. Bolstered by limestone rock walls, they are most likely at least 400 years old! It's amazing how these walls have endured through centuries. In the few places they've crumbled, we've created stairs and a small amphitheater.
In the past, these terraces were gardens for pleasure and produce. We've kept some as lovely places to eat, meet and hang out. One is used as an outdoor meeting (and wedding!) venue and another for a greenhouse. On the uppermost level, before the path winds into the forest that fills the rest of the land, we've restored the ancient bergerie–sheep hut–as a storage area. The roof of this structure captures our torrential rainstorms and funnels the water to storage tanks on the level below.
Beyond that, in what was until recently a thicket of overgrown scrub brush and weeds, we've uncovered at least a dozen oliviers–olive trees! They've now been liberated, and as they breathe and receive light, they're once again producing fruit.
This week we're harvesting the newly discovered olive trees plus the 10-12 others already maturing on other parts of the property.
We're not sure the type of most of our trees as they were already here, but they produce lovely green-yellow olives with stunning shades of pink that morph into purply- black as they ripen. There's no such thing as a black olive tree or a green olive tree; it's simply a matter of the harvest's timing.
In the last year, we planted a handful of young Greek olive trees from a local farmer at the open market. I don't know when they'll start producing fruit, but we're happy to be nurturing them along for the future.
The slender, green Picholine olive is originally from our department, the Gard, and is grown worldwide today. It's best known as a cocktail olive and is also used to produce huile d'olive- delicious olive oil. I'm fairly sure at least some of our trees are this variety.
Once harvested, we take the olives to a nearby pressoir, an olive mill, where they press it into oil for a nominal fee. For the past several years, we've brought in around 45 kilos of our own olives, which was great. As they batch the oil in 6-liter containers, we'll need 100 kilos of our fruit to have the result be purely from our property. That's the goal!
Even if it's blended with other local olives, it's very satisfying to bring home our container of huile d'olive and use it where we can taste it best: sprinkled on salads or vegetables and straight onto fresh bread. I don't think we imagine the golden sunshiny, almost lemony taste it imparts.
My husband keeps back a certain amount of the olives to cure for eating on their own. He's still experimenting with the process. Some are pierced and rubbed with salt for several days; others are soaked in alternately fresh and saltwater. The end goal is to soften the hard fruit, remove bitterness, and prepare them for long-term storage.
Last year, he added garlic, peppers, and other interesting flavors. However, we didn't eat (or share!) them fast enough, and the added ingredients spoiled. Curing olives is definitely a work in progress for two people raised in the suburbs of Los Angeles!
I'm so grateful to have these olive trees; I consider them friends, allies. Not only do they produce delicious oil (and almost delicious olives!), I find them incredibly attractive. Their beauty lies in their subtleness, I think. The gnarled, weathered trunks, the silvery green-gray leaves that shimmer in the breeze require a closer look, a leaning in. Which means I have to slow down and notice.
These gentle giants can and do exist for centuries–without being watered. There's an ancient-ness, a steadiness about them that, for me, is vastly appealing. One of my favorite olive trees ever is found on the path to the epic Pont de Gard, an aqueduct about an hour from here. This epic structure, which appears on the 5 euro bill, was built by the Romans when they were conquerors of the known world, including parts of southern France. A marker indicates the tree is at least 2000 years old…which means it was there when Jesus walked the earth. I imagine there are similar trees in Israel that he actually saw, touched, sat beneath.
Ancient olive tree at Pont du Gard
On our recent trip to Greece, we learned that the small island of Lesvos has over 40,000 olive trees. They seem to cover every hill, mountain, and valley. Unfortunately, only a tiny percentage are harvested as the original cultivators' children and grandchildren have moved on to other careers. The olive trees, however, continue to live and, to some extent, prosper. I admire them.
Lesvos olive grove
We are grateful and blessed to have this land and often chuckle to ourselves at our Father's sense of humor in giving it to us at this stage of our lives. Most people our age downsize. But the heavenly economy is always full of the delightful unexpected. And the olive trees thriving here–those recently found, those newly planted, and those that have been steadily producing their fruit are a glorious bonus.
La vie est belle!