Ping. Spring bursts, headlong, certain. Lucid blossom pops on the fringes of the meadow, at the feet of budding vines, on the fingertips of the black-barked almonds. The reaches of the bare walnut canopy chime with chaffinch song.
It is disconcerting, bewilderingly precipitous.
I’m trailing behind the dogs, beyond the olive grove into the spooky shadows of the pine copse on the gentle sloping terrace above the corral. It is a place of whispers, corridors and half light, not so dense, nor too open, the fitting place to bury the sparrowhawk. This is where these birds prey, breathe, strike, belong. On my looping route in and out of the wood I pass two scatterings of feathers, one from a pigeon, the other a blackbird.
The sparrowhawk cupped in my hand – a juvenile, yellow-iris male I think – still had the steel in its half-closed eyebeam; a warrior, as Ted Hughes poem keenly summed, blue shoulder-cloak wrapped about him, weighing just seven ounces. Its Jurassic feet of shocking turmeric yellow, of clinical finesse and power tipped with curling razor black talons, were as perfect as the counter shaded bars on his chest. What a terrible waste.
The last time I had been so close to murderous creation was when its cousin and another farm and valley predator, a goshawk, had broken through the net canopy of our chicken run exactly two years ago. Dim-witted, I had stepped in, over the corpses of two chickens it had dispatched, and tried to usher it out. It looked into my soul. The raptor gaze was as shocking as the bulk. It was a force of nature.
The hawks were dark, untameable, graceless creatures of history, unloved by the falconers with noble peregrines on their gauntlets. Goshawks were deemed vile and fractious, hard to master. For sure their darting, shadowy world is far harder to glimpse, let alone fathom, so different it is from the soaring falcon. But what wonder when you see a hawk, sense the menacing, brutal power from that different world, the one we rarely see and decreasingly sense: the parallel universe inhabited by other Earth creatures who have evolved to perfection, who somehow have the power to shake us humans awake from our ludicrous dream that we know and understand, are wise and supreme.
The sparrowhawk had met his end on the bumpy main road that slices through the rolling vineyards and groves a couple of miles from the farm. In its tunnel-vision, terrain-skimming pursuit of prey it had crossed the path of a truck and lay flinching on the verge the opposite side of the road beyond the crash barrier. There was nowhere for us to pull over and, as ever, crazed Catalan drivers were furiously bunched up behind our bumper like railway carriages. We were heading for the olive mill and decided to check on our return journey to see if the bird was stunned or dead.
It was still there. The life within it had frozen, the beak locked down against the barred softness of its chest. We took it home and then I found a suitable spot to bury it beneath pine needles and two hefty stones, on the lip of the copse with an uplifting open visa of the valley, near the bee orchids.
I drifted deeper into the shadowland. Through the dreamy rhythm of the dark bark I was heading for the bowl of brightness at the far end, the latest crucible of labour where we are trying to make sense of our relationship with this land. On the western fringe of the farm beside a sunken holloway of cane, oak, blackthorn and bramble, we are, as sensitively as possible, steadily freeing a line of old olives from a worryingly combustible tangle. Imagining harvests to come we steadily stack firewood for future winters. We attempt, as we have done all over the place, to thin the dominant forces and to foster diversity, with mixed results. This corner of Mother’s Garden has been abandoned long enough for some of the undergrowth to tower 20 feet above the ancient olives. At intervals the mesh of the hollow has been breached by wild boar whose well-worn paths pattern the valley like the ancient ways of hobbits. And at the deepest point, where in 15 years I have never ventured before (and where we will leave nature alone) I found the half-crater of old badger set beneath a crooked hawthorn.
All this is but 100 metres from our pony’s dusty corral that sits in an elbow of the woodland. What nights frolics the old girl must witness, which explains her propensity to doze in the winter sunshine when out to graze. The creatures – boar, owls, badgers, rabbit, rats and cats that prey on them, weasels, deer – that inhabit that other world we rarely experience, must keep her awake most of the night.
Of all the cats that live off this land, arguably the wildest has wheedled her way into our warm kitchen. Gen Cat is classically feral. Her fat ringtail, her black side stripes on camouflage grey and her fearless countenance suggest her genes are predominantly from the forest. She will take a rodent half her size, refuses to acknowledge the terriers’ hatred, and yet at the same time has the guile to circumnavigate any doubts we might have about letting such a beast on to our laps.
Back in the hollow, as I tickle along with the clearing for an hour a day in the company of all manner of living things, I breathe in the benefit. I can begin to see the progress while weighing lessons learned from living so close to that other world,, fortified by a space I foolishly used to think of as solitude.
DELICIOUS, HEALTHY NEW HARVEST EXTRA VIRGIN OLIVE OIL – TAKING ORDERS NOW FOR DECEMBER DELIVERIES.
There is nothing tastier or healthier than the freshest, finest food is there? But have you ever tried this?
Order yours today (for mainland UK deliveries early December).
Choice of 5 litre, 2 litre or case of 6x500ml bottles.
Our new harvest arbequina extra virgin olive oil, being pressed as I write, zinging with flavour and goodness and exceptionally low in acidity, can be on your table in time for Christmas.
We at multi-award winning Mother’s Garden are pulling out all the stops once again to make this available in the UK for the festive season. A rare treat. All you have to do is get in touch or go to our shop to order.
If you have never tried our UK Great Taste Gold Star olive oil, this is the perfect time. Drizzle it on steamed vegetables, on baked fish, onto fresh bread or winter salads. Taste the difference.
And our 500ml bottles (available in cases of 6) make excellent presents for family and friends or to take to dinner parties.
Meanwhile the shadows lengthen as the farm eases towards winter. Our olives are all in but the other village families are still harvesting and the cooperative mill is a hive of activity, blooming with the scent of fresh olive juice.
A burst of rain has brought the usual enchantments, not least wild mushrooms. People are wandering the valley with baskets under their arms, including our friend Enric who gifted us four different kinds.
The talk is of a hard winter ahead, but for now everything seems to be holding its breath. We shall see, and I will tell you.
Keep well. And get in touch if you ever want to know more about Mother’s Garden, or to visit.
SHAKING THE TREE NEEDS REVIEWS
A long-distance hug to everyone who has bought the new Shaking The Tree e-book. Would you consider posting a review?
Two options – Good Reads and Amazon Books. Here are the links.
There is no more poignant measure of treasured time than the faces of your children.
I turn off the chainsaw to rest my arms and free my hot ears from the muffs. The air still rattles with engine noise. Two powered para-gliders, the sharp colour of grapefruit, are edging along the valley, riding the cloudless sky. If I hadn’t looked up I wouldn’t have seen the peregrine.
There is now more room among the pines for the old olive trees to breathe. And there is room on the terrace wall to perch. A chicken idles past the ankles of the pony and out of the corral. Ah-Ah. I wander over and check the hay store. I haven’t looked for days. Five eggs.
La Petita is dozing, resting one hoof. She is rarely alone, especially at night. The plough work of the wild boar is everywhere.
Through the new pools of light in the wood the initial flecks of almond pink. The last of Joe’s giant snowman has gone. No frost for three mornings.
A carpenter bee, the first, gently writes its name in the air. My gaze slides to Maggie clearing around and feeding the olives. Water from the spring is running between the broad beans.
We must press on with pruning. Maggie has begun in the vineyard, but the olives await and we are too late to finish the almond grove.
I must soon nurse Nell the 51 year-old tractor out of hibernation. It is good to harrow when the earth is amenable.
The Mother’s Garden year is ticking on. How we love the promises of these awakening days. Perhaps I love February most of all.
Now back inside, Martin. Leave the beauty of the woodpile with the robin on top, the happy sense of progress, the sun on our shoulders, and write about this feeling. Then get on with the latest screenplay, maybe checking first if, like the eggs, we have some more orders for fresh olive oil. Oh yes.
Want to get away? Fancy doing something different? Half-price working breaks at Mother’s Garden, Catalonia – and see where our wonderful, award-winning olive oil comes from. If you can’t come, but want to taste this life, we have delicious new harvest EV olive oil in the UK now for immediate delivery. Just get in touch, or log on to our shop.
We have our new harvest arbequina olive oil in the UK for immediate delivery – premium, fresh extra virgin olive oil from our village mill, harvested in November, bottled in the mill.
We supply direct to homes, chefs and fine food outlets, so please get in touch.
Mother’s Garden is a member of the Guild of Fine Food and past winner of the top 3 Gold Stars standard in the coveted UK Great Taste Awards.
If you read some of the coverage by the national media of what has been a very difficult year for Mediterranean olive growers, you could think there was no premium quality olive oil available in the UK at sensible cost. NOT TRUE!
See our online shop – quality, provenance, freshness, flavour and goodness for as little as £9.70 a litre delivered to your door – or please get in touch if you have any questions about the extraordinary juice of the timeless, wonderful winter fruit, the olive.
Perfect for tapas snacks, to drizzle on steamed vegetables, steamed fish, poached eggs and, yes, salads.
All best wishes from Mother’s Garden.
Does freshness matter? Absolutely, that is why every container of Mother’s Garden award-winning olive oil carries the pressing and bottling dates (handwritten at our farmhouse kitchen table).
We would love to hear from you.
EXTRA VIRGIN OLIVE OIL fresh from the press is an extraordinary food, bursting with flavour and goodness.
We have just picked, pressed, bottled and shipped.
Would you like to enjoy some?
Place an order on our online shop. We aim to deliver in England, Scotland and Wales during the week beginning December 15.
And with this year’s harvest our village cooperative mill has been awarded second prize in the coveted ROMANICO ESENCIA AWARDS in Spain, given to the best arbequina producers across the country.
Mother’s Garden – quality, provenance and freshness. Share this please and spread the word…. and the wonderful, simple, essential food that is olive oil.
October clouds have been as sporadic as political apologies. The snakes are still in the long grass and the eagles have been picking them off. Nispera scent gilds air rusty with pig odours and rotten bureaucratic nonsense.
Juan, the tireless giant of a farmer who doesn’t let darkness stop him, has been pressing on transforming the scrubby folds and ribbons of abandoned land near the ruined convent. The brief pong is a price worth paying.
The biggest man in the village has the biggest tractor, and the broad beam from the rank of lights on his green machine searches the valley as he weaves between the sporadic olive trees, muck spreading and then harrowing in before he sows his winter barley. We shall have the pleasing lushness soon enough, then the swaying sea of ears in May, the bales and wavy lines of stubble between the timeless olive trees.
Winter. Hardly. It seems an age away, yet Joe returns from high school with talk of a brutal season in store. We have had no snow to speak of for two years so we are due, yet October has surpassed September for warmth and our swallows have only just preened, flexed and flown.
We sleep with the window open. The duvet has not been unpacked.
Back in pulsing July, from a French cheese-making family who wanted to come down from their Brittany farm for some October sunshine. We looked at each other and crossed our fingers. On a blustery, damp September morning they emailed us again to ask if they needed to bring sheets and towels. No we replied. Great, they said, adding that the children couldn’t wait to enjoy the swimming pool.
Nobody has ever dipped a toe this late in the year, so it is indicative of the Indian summer that the lovely Bretons have been taking the plunge day and night, incessantly. My much-rehearsed apology (in floppy French) about the weather and water temperature went by the board.
In a couple of weeks I will be in a Barcelona television studio trying not to make an arse of myself as we (the freelance writers on the magazine Catalonia Today) grin inanely into the camera and try and string a sentence together without sounding like we are breaking some teeth in for a friend. The Catalan newspaper I write for has launched a television company and seems to think we might pull in the crowds, so to speak. Mmm. I promise to send you the online link when we have managed to record something.
THE OLIVE OIL BAN LATEST
Meanwhile, the impending UK ban on the sale of “on tap” olive oil continues to foster outrage and incredulity. I think we should challenge the legality of it as it discriminates and is unfounded, so if there are any trade lawyers out there willing to join the fray please get in touch.
Here is some more startling information.
In our Mother’s Garden campaign to shed some light on Government thinking I asked the Rural Payments Agency (which has made the pronouncement) why didn’t civil servants talk to people before they weighed in?
Oh but we did, they told me. There was a “public consultation” with stakeholders. That’s news to me and obviously 99.9 per cent of the UK population. Here is a link to the report on the four week “consultation”, on an issue affecting hundreds of businesses and thousands of customers. Have a read of the summary of responses.
Bottom line – the 10-questions online survey and report is based on responses from a total of…. seven people. That’s three bottlers, one local authority representative, one retailer, one customer and one person who did not say who they were.
I then asked why didn’t the RPA tell anyone about the impending December ban? Oh but we did, came the reply again. The RPA’s answer….
” Details of olive oil requirements are at the following link on gov.uk as last updated on 20 August 2014. This was also publicised through social media via the RPA twitter account”. The RPA Twitter account!
I am sorry, but as a published author of fiction and a screenwriter even I could not have made that up. Juan’s muck spreading smells sweeter.
Please do me and other small producers and fine food outlets a huge favour and share this blog – we have to spread the word, counter and hopefully stop such awful governance.
We are 3 gold star winners in the Great Taste Awards (2011). We know our stuff and a great many people trust us and rely on us. We are olive oil experts and we deal with small fine food expert outlets, never supermarkets. Our fully-labelled bag-in-box approach, killed off in one bureaucratic brush stroke, most certainly is the answer for quality, provenance, freshness and waste reduction for people who want the best for less.
Yet the civil service simply does not have any understanding. Olive oil is not a luxury but an essential food that can and should be affordable.
We will seek to challenge this somehow, small though we are. Help us if you can, even with a word. We have also spoken out on our Mother’s Garden Facebook page too, so please share that if you can.
And keep well.
PS We have to sell 60×5 litres, 20x 2litres and seven cases of 6x500ml bottles during November. The perfect solution, may I humbly suggest, for gifts this Christmas or for dinner parties with friends and family feasting. Just get in touch.
The endless examples of governmental disconnect – a repeated and abject failure to understand how most people think, exist, survive, work, attain and sustain – span my lifetime. At unthinkable cost.
Compared to the gross scale of some of well documented failures in governance, our stand on the matter of extra virgin olive oil and how it is sold is miniscule, but it makes it no less important. It illustrates the general issue of how good intentions can, due to law-makers’ failings to communicate and understand simple truths, become punitive, costly disasters.
I need to shout, and I will. See my last post and watch for more.
But today I want to simply share the fortifying textures and beauty of Mother’s Garden and these valleys. The vegetable garden chair, the bearded man of the mountain (do you see him?), a cobweb stair to the summit of wild asparagus.
Time’s up. Back to the office. There will be further news from Mother’s Garden soon. Keep well.
Time has slipped. This chronicle is overdue, too long and in part a bit bleak, so I also offer an uplifting small choir of photography at the end that has its own voice.
The here and now at delicious Mother’s Garden is calm and bright outside, but stormy inside.
We labour in the office, not least because we are at loggerheads with the British Government, and DeFRA and the Rural Payments Agency in particular, about an impending ban on the sale of on tap extra virgin olive oil in the UK. Yes, you read that correctly.
I would be so grateful if you could share this blog with as many fair-minded, good-food-loving people as possible.
Truthfully, I can’t see how we, tiny as we are, could every claim to be standing up to the bureaucratic bull of government, but we won’t be trampled without putting up a fierce fight. We have to.
This is the unpalatable truth….
There is grim history of corporate fraud in the multi-billion Euro business of olive oil.
That is why so many people buy our and similar premium olive oil, direct from our online shop or through fine food outlets, to be sure of provenance and quality. And buying it “on tap” through responsible, independent delis, farm and health food shops has been growing in popularity, to cut cost, waste and transport impact.
Last year Tom Mueller’s book Extra Virginity blew the lid off the big business olive oil fraud and at the same time hailed long and loud the producers of “real” premium extra virgin olive oil toiling away in Mediterranean countries against a tide of inferior and cheaper brands of undefined source and age that still bore the magical term extra virgin.
I need to explain the parameters of the EVOO “standard” another day, but save to say they are far too broad and fail to address the fundamental aspects of provenance, freshness and quality.
Now the EU and, in turn, the UK government have tried to tackle any fraud with
a) some sensible labelling requirements (we already do more),
b) an utterly misguided, punitive ban the sale of on tap extra virgin olive oil – a key market for experts like us, and a vital business for fine food delis, farm shops and health food stores.
– Wholly off target (in tackling the corporate fraudsters they may well kill off the likes of us and other honest producers who can be trusted),
– Grossly unfair (the “on tap” ban only affects olive oil, not other oils, Yes, you also read that correctly, which begs the question is fostering unfair competition lawful?),
– Excessive and illogical (proper labelling on dispensers – as we already do – defines the provenance, freshness and quality of the olive oil being tapped off).
Honestly. I am incredulous, as is olive oil writer and expert Judy Ridgway. See her website blogs at www.oliveoil.org.uk.
I could go on, and will at another time because I must. Save to say for now that emails are flying about, mostly in one direction. What on Earth is the cost of all this mindless bureaucracy to everyone involved, not least the taxpayer?
Tens of thousands of customers will miss out. Thousands of quality businesses will lose. It will cost us dear too, and we are going to really struggle, so at the same time as making the case to DeFRA that they are missing the target by a country mile we are trying to up sales of our 2 litre and 5 litre containers and cases of 6x500ml bottles.
Would you like some? Fantastic for feasting this winter and Christmas, and our 500ml bottles and embroidered aprons make lovely Christmas presents. Click here for the online shop.
This storm comes with others. October is serene, but September seethed with sierra night tempests, many skirting us, some not, all electrifying. The godly clouds were defined by pulses of blinding light, more rapid than I have ever seen, then came the torrents bringing with them great showers of walnuts and the onset of grape rot.
Heat and damp on the eve of harvest bestows the kiss of mould, and the farmers have been dodging showers to gather what goodness is to be found in the vineyards. People are working together, sharing , cooperating, toiling through: what is grim for the grapes is thirst-quenching for the olives. There is always another fruiting, some balance in the spinning existence.
What black grapes we have of worth beyond the Mother’s Garden fig trees will be made into fine wine by a friend. Our stainless steel fermentation vat in the barn echoes with emptiness this year. There just isn’t time, and this has suffocated any niggling inclination. Today, though, we climbed ladders to fill buckets with the green muscat grapes shading the front door. As I type Maggie is in the farmhouse kitchen making juice.
All growth surges again in the October warmth. Sun and moon shadows stop the clock. You can hear the Earth breathing. I tog up in beekeeping apparel and gently cut back a long stem of red current in the holiday cottage garden. A wasps’ nest has flowered close to the tip. The occupants are massed on it and I talk to them as we wander up the land and along a hazel terrace where I stick the stem into the ground in the shade of bramble leaves. Not one deserts the comb.
Tractors with laden and then empty trailers to-and-fro along the lane, fuelled by a pinch of harvest urgency. Snails fast-track through the grasses along the highways of irrigation pipes. A kingfisher brightens the view from the office window. And yesterday during my afternoon dog walk six different varieties of butterfly painted their colours against the lushness as life that swells before the great sleep.
The fig feast has finally ended. We gather hundreds of walnuts and thousands of almonds. The de-husking machine outside the back door rattles teeth but saves hours, and we must find a market for them. There is a good rate of payment this year, we hear.
Most of all, though, we labour in the office longer than we want to, spreading the good news about our olive oil, campaigning against costly bureaucratic nonsense , and opening people’s minds to the warm opportunity of a few days or weeks staying here in our cottage. Want to come? November, December, January, February, March……
I must away.