Every morning I dwell in possibility. It is three weeks since I came out of hospital. I may not brim with energy, but I watch it, sense and draw on it in the enchantment of outdoors. Fifteen slow strides from the back door a wicker chair bides by the spring-fed reservoir and I drink the view, the sanctuary of nature and pulse of life.
The emperor edged closer, iridescent sapphire with gold in his jewelled stare, his four wings a haze. With every circuit of the round mirror of water he hovered to study me, or rather my lily feet and ankles propped high on the curve of the wall.
Other dragonflies and insects scattered before him for fear of being food. He will rule for just two weeks, almost constantly in flight seeking a female or prey – the power, majesty and frailty of life incarnate.
While I wondered at his species I felt he was questioning mine. I hope to see him every day of what life he has; he and our barn swallows and the martins sweeping in to drink. A few days ago a golden oriole failed to notice me and charmed his way through the olive grove, pausing at every tree in one row. I sat like a rock. All that moved was my mouth as I beamed as brightly as his breast. Then, in a blink, a bee-eater came to copy the swallows, pulling out just in front of my toes and blasting its brilliance in a flap of panic inches from my face.
The hospital indoctrination of patience has its dividends. “Recovery will take many months” was the emphatic mantra and I must abide to the need for diligence, to listen to my body and sleep, sleep, sleep. And when I stir I do not go so far, yet.
I sit or stand still more now than I have ever done, and life comes to me; returning to my body in tiny measures every day. The sustenance of home and loving care, my bed and the rich diversity are working.
Fledgling swallows from nests glued to rafters in the barn chatter on the sundial during flying practice. Below them, beyond the leaf canopy and bunches of the muscat vine that shades the front door, seven feet tall hollyhocks sway in the breeze, attended by several species of bees .
Nearer still to the red earth where our chickens bathe in the dust, the hefty carpenter bees, their hum an octave lower than the other pollinators, prefer the sturdy bloom storks of the dramatic, glossy, dark green and broad-leaf (with a spike at the end) acanthus, or bear’s breeches, a remarkable plant rooted in herbal medicine and, bizarrely, classical and Renaissance architecture and art.
Native to the Mediterranean region but now found worldwide, the leaf motif of this plant was carved into the tops of Corinthian columns from the 5th century BC, something copied by later architects and sculptors, also being used in wood carving and in friezes.
The story, according to Vitruvius, writing in 30BC about architecture, is thus.
A native girl of Corthin was struck down by a disease and died. After her burial some of her prized possessions, some goblets, were put in a basket and placed on her grave. A tile covered them to protect them from the weather. But the basket had been placed on the root of an acanthus, which grew, sending shoots up and around the basket, cupping it in foliage. The architect Callimachus saw this and was inspired to use “the style and novelty of the grouping” in his marble carvings.
The name acanthus comes from the Greek Akanthos, aka meaning thorn, thos meaning flower. The tough flowers, spiny, toothed bracts, rise on rigid stalks and, as I sit enchanted I surmise that only the beefy carpenters are tough enough to breech them. (I still haven’t found an explanation for the “bear” name.)
The honeysuckle is a flourish of yellow blossom and scent. There I counted six species of bees, sharing the air and nectar with a solitary humming bird hawk-moth. I leant on the grass bank wondering whether to attempt a photograph. The still morning air is always rich with life – hover flies, a ruby-tailed wasp (or cuckoo wasp) looking in the wall crevices for other insects’ nests, wasps and flying ants to name but a few. The grass too: crickets, ants and shield bugs of various characters.
To the east and south of our weather-beaten, wide front door, shading the dog kennel and hammock are fig boughs that bow to the ground with the weight of teardrop fruit, still deceptively green. They will ripen before the eyes and be falling within days. The dead crown on the biggest tree needs to be lopped, but hasn’t been because it is also the pedestal for fluting orioles, warblers, finches and, more than most, the serins. A pair of hoopoes has materialised to further lift spirits, while the whistle of the bee-eaters billows dawn and dusk.
June has been mild. We have had occasional thunderstorms and deluges, sustaining much of the green where normally the ground is parched. Even the happy clover clogging the vegetable patch is in delicate white flower.
Soon, though, the summer heat will slide in to a harsher rhythm, day and night. Electric fans will purr in every room and we will hide and wait for the relief of late afternoon breeze to reach us from the sea 15 kilometres away. Then we emerge and our shadows grow into giants.
If we cannot sleep in the afternoon, then we will read or talk some more about the world in flux, the portents of a brewing El Niño in the warming Pacific, or maybe the recent prognosis that we could be on the verge of a mini ice age, but one that will not deflect the consequences of certain global warming. We believe it is important to take a deep interest, and we suffer unending unease about these core realities for our planet and our arrogance and persistent failure to read the signs and react as if our lives and those of our grandchildren depended on it.
I’m sure that if the compulsion to clamour is not yet there, disquiet is of pandemic proportions, surely. But who among the economic straight-jacketed world leaders, will have the strength to make an immediate, profound, defining difference, for you, me, everyone and the emperor?
The truth is, though, it will take the masses to clamour and force. The establishment is always inherently incapable or, worse, unwilling.
SHAKING THE TREE, Martin’s sequel to No Going Back – Journey to Mother’s Garden, will be published as an e-book on July 15. To pre-order click here. This is an updated edition of the paperback book published in 2010, now out of print.
Martin’s book SHAKING THE TREE will be available worldwide on Kindle in the coming days.
Just click here to pre-order. It will be published as an e-book on July 15th.
This sequel to the best-selling NO GOING BACK, brings the Mother’s Garden story up to date – another honest and funny serving of Mediterranean home truths from the family home in The Priorat mountains of southern Catalonia.
More than 50,000 copies of NO GOING BACK, available in four languages, have been sold, and millions of people around the globe followed the family’s living the dream story on two No Going Back television documentaries.
We humbly suggest that those of you with a Kindle might like to read it, and we ask everyone to pass the word and the link so this news reaches as many people as possible.
Many dream of a different way of life, and here is a truthful, emotional and comical account of one family who did it. Shaking The Tree, first published as a modest paperback in the UK in 2010, has now been updated and is set to go out into the world, telling the family’s story from 2003 to 2015.
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.
The UK and world media is full of stories – like this one – about a disastrous olive harvest in some countries. Some people are taking this to mean they cannot source the finest olive oil. THEY CAN. YOU CAN.
Some small, high quality producers and village cooperatives, like us, are managing to supply. You can have your new harvest olive oil by the end of this week, and if you order with us today you can it at 2014 prices.
The crisis has affected prices, but even with our small price increase tomorrow we are still able to supply our premium arbequina olive oil, just bottled, for under £10 a litre delivered to your home if you buy a 5 litre. Buy more and the price drops. Share a delivery with family/friends/colleagues and it will drop some more.
Support the small producers and the fine food outlets. The finest olive oil is still available at a sensible price.
Get in touch – any questions we will do all we can to help.
Have you ever bought premium olive oil on tap?
In five weeks, from December 13, you won’t be able to any more.
Please – everyone in the UK who loves premium extra virgin olive oil and has enjoyed the quality, value, ease and more environmentally-friendly way of buying this remarkable fruit juice on tap from a fine food specialist shop, please add your voice.
PLEASE SHARE THIS so that everyone knows that the Government is banning the sale of “on tap” olive oil from December 13.
Not all oils, you understand not even infused olive oil, just olive oil.
Not only is the ban unjustified and ill-conceived, it is also discriminatory, punitive and unfair.
All on-tap oils are susceptible to the same potential health and fraud issues yet the EU and DeFRA are just singling out and banning the extraordinarily healthy and delicious fruit juice the world knows as olive oil.
Customers go to fine food outlets they know and trust and use olive oil from producers like us who they know and trust. How is that different to any other food if everything is properly labelled and detailed in a way people can clearly understand and trust?
We have to lobby the British Government and the EU to make them see how wrong this discriminatory ban is. With your help we will try and do so. Tiny as we are.
To put this as simply as possible…
We very much welcome new stricter rules regarding labelling as the EU seeks to counter food fraud. There has to be full provenance on all foods and far more clarity. We at Mother’s Garden give more information than is required, including the pressing and bottling dates (vital yet still rare information).
BUT, based upon a 10-year- old ruling by the European Court, the UK Government says it must now comply with a ban on “tap” sales of olive oil. This includes bag in box.
Part of our business is supplying our premium olive oil in bag in box to health food stores and delis and farm shops and, hence, on to thousands of customers nationwide.
We contest that the clean, simple bag in box method is the best way to preserve the olive oil from light and air contamination. A bag in box cannot be refilled and resealed, and it gives both customers and small businesses a wonderful way to source the best olive oil at sensible cost.
Less weight, less transport impact, less waste, better quality, lower cost. Everyone sees the sense and value of this, the goodness and health benefits.
Look at it this way.
Under this ludicrous new rule the following applies…
UNLAWFUL – our olives are picked and pressed in the village cooperative mill, then the bag in box is filled at the mill and sent to fine food outlets via our family’s UK farm, fully labelled. The age of the oil is also clearly defined.
LAWFUL – olive oil from a host of different locations and countries is taken in tankers by major corporations, mostly to Italy, where it is stored and blended, then bottled and shipped to a distributor and on to stores in the UK. The age of the olive oil is not defined.
We do not say other ways of supplying olive oil should be banned, of course not.
But why regulate against the simplest and most efficient way of bringing this essential food at a sensible cost to the British public?
It is NOT a luxury, and premium olive oil should be affordable and at the heart of every meal.
So we ask – what is wrong with the fully labelled, non-refillable bag in box method, also used for soft drinks and wine?
And how can any government or court justify such discrimination against one food product, one oil?
So, please share and help us spread the word.
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.