Saturday, December 13, 2008

99 and 44/100ths Percent Pure
on Via Palombaro

It’s that season of the year in Italy, when virginity and purity are top of mind in all the churches (December 8 is the feast of the Immaculate Conception and it goes on from there). Piero says the teen aged girls in his time had a prayer, “Virgin Mary, Mother of God, who conceived without sin, help me sin without conceiving,” but that’s a conversation for another day.

Then there was the message from those Ivory Soap ads from the 1960s (1950s?): “it's 99 and 44/100ths percent pure.” All the post-war mothers rushed out to buy pure white Ivory and the “almost-pure” concept took off.

Then, somehow, the concepts of virginity and almost-p
ure were merged and came out as extra-virgin. I have no idea how. I do not set the standards here, but I’m sure there are millions of young women in conservative societies who would embrace the idea that just a little fooling around could still buy them the label of extra virgin bride.

My brother, the preacher, says he thought the extra virgins were the ones who didn't make the cut for the sacrifice-down-the-volcano selection in ancient times, kind of like those who don't get in the Top Ten in a beauty pageant, but I think he is mixing up his pagan rites with his hopes for his beautiful teen-aged daughter.

This is all to prepare you for the announcement that the olive oil from Yellow House and La Casetta Rosa, plucked from our motley assortment of a hundred or so trees by ten good friends, was tested and found to have an acidity of only 0.032%. To meet the standards of extra virgin, the acidity can be no more than 0.06%. So, you see, our gorgeous green oil is not only extra virgin, it surely must be extra extra virgin. Our oil is more virtuous than Ivory and the taste is infinitely better.

This was one of those banner years in the very short history of Olive Week at our place. The trees were just groaning with fruit, twice as much as in 2007. Our friends arrived from the South (Battle’s Wharf and Tampa), Tulsa (oil, yes; extra virgin, no) and Cape Cod, plus Namibia, England, and down the road in Todi. The days were long and sunny, so we managed to get more than 700 kilos of those little black nuggets off the trees and into the baskets, while exchanging gossip, arguing philosophy, falling off ladders, listening to Swedish folk songs (next year, Bjorn, think about the Beatles, in English, or opera, in Italian), and contemplating both the view and the zillions of olives hanging on the next tree over. Of course, there was much conversation about the American election, including numerous toasts to Obama with Omero’s garage red.

Our pickers were fueled with truffles, porcini mushrooms, pasta, hand cut prosciutto, home made farro soup, fresh bread, vino, and a wee drop of the plum wine made over the summer from a tree that unexpectedly rained fruit to prove it wasn't dead. Of course, we hit the local ristoranti circuit pretty hard and also managed to get to chocolate school.

Even now
, weeks later, the pickers' hands are surely still twitching in their sleep; not unlike a dozing dog chasing an imaginary rabbit, they “milk” those endless olive trees. But, what an achievement! Ah, to have been acolytes in the grand ceremony of producing something extra extra virgin, the fruit of the land, green and organic, sustainably environmentally correct; with the dark moist earth of Umbria encrusting your boots, leaves in your hair, olives in your bra, proudly wearing scars from face-scratching branches to dinner parties across the globe. (See great opportunity below).PS.
A note to our pickers (you know who you are): In order to convince you to come back next year, we are naming a tree after each one of you, which will be pruned and fertilized with sheep dung. We will ask Bjorn to come over from Todi and sing your choice of tune to your tree, preferably when we are far away from home. You will receive photos of your tree during the year, so that you may see its progress, from buds in the spring to tiny olives to full, ripe, juicy olives ready to be picked -- by you. Va bene?

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