As workampers, one of the things Bill and I look forward to with every adventure, is a visit from family! We received that pleasure this past week, with the arrival of Bill’s daughter, Sarah, who flew in from Los Angeles to spend five days with us in San Antonio.
Even though her plane did not arrive until after midnight, we rose early on Saturday in order to travel to Elmendorf, Texas, to Sandy Oaks Olive Orchard. We had been to the orchard previously but had never taken the tour offered only once a week – and that was our goal.
The tour was conducted by Saundra Winokur, the owner of the olive orchard, so you can be sure we received the facts, as anyone could immediately tell that she nurtures her orchard and her employees as one would a child. Having purchased the land in 1998, the first harvest did not occur until 2007, and here are some of those facts we discovered while touring the property…
- How many olive trees do you have? Sandy originally planted 11,000 trees until she realized that the trees were attracting mold due to being planted too close together. Since the root base of an olive tree is very shallow, convoluted and far-reaching, it was impossible to dig them up, so trees were cut down to provide space for the wind to blow easily through the orchard, thus eliminating the mold. Sandy, the owner, prides herself on sustainability, and thus, is still utilizing the eliminated olive wood to produce olive wood charcoal and various wood products.
- How many different varieties of olive trees do you have? There are 38 varieties of olive trees in the orchard, with 8 of them being offered in the orchard nursery for sale. The Texas soil in this area is sandy (no pun intended), which is ideal for olive trees. Interestingly, peaches, lemons, and herbs are also grown at Sandy Oaks.
- How long does an olive tree live? Most olive trees have a life span of 1,000 years.
- How many olives does one tree yield? Most trees yield 25-30 pounds of olives. At first the olives were picked by hand, but now the orchard has several rakes that are used to gently shake the olives off the trees.
- What is the timeline for harvesting? Of course the harvest is dependent on weather, but we were able to see that buds were already forming on the trees, which then turn to flowers as the olives appear. The actual harvest usually begins in August and is completed totally by the orchard’s staff. In the past, they would call upon help from the public but have stopped doing that as staffers have such a vested interest in their product, and according to Sandy, become somewhat competitive during harvest season!
6. How many pounds of olives does it take to make a gallon of olive oil? As we observed the pressing equipment and were talked through the entire process, we learned that between 57-67 pounds of olives are needed to produce a gallon of extra virgin olive oil.
7. What makes it “extra virgin?” Sandy shared that we should never use anything other than extra virgin olive oil, which must meet three criteria – it must be cold-pressed; it must be from a first-press; and, the acidity level must be .5% or less. (Sandy Oaks oil averages only .2% acidity)
Not only is olive oil produced right there on site, but in the country store you will see everything from plant fertilizer to bug repellent; from loose and bagged tea to martini mix; and from jellies, tapenade, and olive oil chocolate fudge to a huge array of personal skin care products! It really is amazing that a team of 12 people do it all – and most of them wear multiple hats in doing so. For example, the cashier is actually the IT and graphic arts person, while our server at lunch hopes to be part of the harvest team this year as well!
Speaking of lunch… Following the tour, we enjoyed a delicious special Valentine’s Day lunch in the orchard bistro. This began our eating trend for Sarah’s visit – hey, she had to get a taste of Texas cuisine, and goodness knows we’ve succeeded in that area!
Lunch included a garden salad (olive oil dressing, of course!), home-baked olive bread, brisket or chicken roasted on the olive wood charcoal, roasted potato salad and asparagus. All of this was followed by a generous serving of strawberry pound cake and complemented by prosecco and/or olive or hibiscus iced tea!
An adventure certainly worth rising early for… and then off to the Texas Tulip Farm!
Stay Calm and Travel On…