Monthly Archives: February 2016

Aceite de oliva

I don’t think it’s possible to overestimate the importance of olive oil in Spain. It’s added to moisturizing lotion and shower gel; it appears in bread and baked goods and even chocolate; it’s the preferred oil for cooking; and it’s what Spaniards normally put on bread (butter? no).


Sunflower oil is marketed as a good alternative for frying, and sesame oil is available. Beyond that, the choice is olive oil. A five-liter bottle of extra virgin olive oil goes for $20-$25 at this department store.

Twenty-percent of the world’s olive oil supply comes from Spain, and more than half of that from Andalucía. Driving north or west from Granada the hillsides are covered with neat rows of olive trees that stretch on and on, only occasionally interrupted by an oil cooperative or a farmstead or a town.

The harvest—which is carried out between November and the end of January—involves laying a tarp under a tree, then shaking branches or the trunk vigorously with a machine to cause the olives to drop. The collected olives are hauled to a press where the oil is extracted or, if they’re going to be sold whole, the olives go through a soaking process to remove the bitterness before they are brined and packaged. I think there are also efforts to capture additional value from the oil-making process, for example by burning olive pits to generate energy.

A vintage olive press

A vintage olive press

Other examples of presses

Other examples of presses

Although olive trees are incredibly hardy, they require mild temperatures in May in order to bloom fully. The pollen from the yellow flowers causes such a strong reaction in people who are allergic that we can expect to see some Granadinos wearing breathing masks outside when the pollen count is high.

Every two years growers cut tree branches back to the trunk to foment growth of new, olive-producing branches. Some of the cut branches get bundled and sold as firewood or are used for wooden handicrafts, but enough of them are burned in the open that I may need my own breathing mask (cough, wheeze) before pollen season. Because the trees tolerate drought, heat and cold, and poor soil, they can live for hundreds of years. We’ve been told that there are trees in Andalucía that are at least 2,000 years old.

variedades aceitunas

Lou’s school workbooks are the “Andalucía version,” which means they’re loaded with cultural references relevant to this region. Here are four of the five main varieties of olives grown in Andalucía.

The Granada science museum recently held a two-hour oil-tasting class to learn how different varieties of olive trees and different growing conditions produce different flavors. I’m sorry I missed it!

Una romería

Yesterday we participated in our first romería, or pilgrimage.

In the first or second century, six disciples were sent from the north of Spain* to evangelize the rest of Hispania.  One of those disciples, San Cecilio, reportedly was killed when he met Romans near Granada. That made him a martyr.

After the “reconquest” of Andalucía in 1492—when the Jews and Muslims were forced out by the reyes católicos (Catholic kings) Ferninand and Isabel—the Catholic church looked for ways to reconnect Granada to its Christian past. And the martyr San Cecilio looked like a great candidate for patron saint. Conveniently, about 100 years later San Cecilio’s ashes were discovered on a hill site near the Albaicín—in what is now called Sacromonte—which justified the building of a church and monastery to house his ashes and other relics.

February 1 is San Cecilio day, but the romería takes place the first Sunday in February. We walked to the monastery from our house, joining lots of other people who were enthusiastic about being outside, with the prospect of drinking beer, on a gorgeous day. Although there are actual liturgical rites performed in honor of San Cecilio, the romería is more like a fair featuring traditional food, music and dance.

*Since the Middle Ages, Santiago de Compostela in northern Spain has been an important pilgrimage site, with routes extending into France and southern Spain.

Watch the sevillana, a traditional style of dance and music from Seville (17 seconds).

El cambio climático

Es muy raro.

It’s very strange. That’s how our acquaintances are describing this (non)winter in Granada.



We now have a sunnier garden plot with thriving, inherited chard, donated leek plants, a whole seed packet of arugula, and lettuce and chard that we hope will rebound following a hungry bird attack.

We now have a sunnier garden plot with thriving, inherited chard, donated leeks, a whole seed packet worth of arugula, and lettuce and chard that appear to be rebounding following an attack by hungry birds.