Olive Picking in Provence

olive harvest

Quite a few of you were interested in what happened around here on Thanksgiving. Even though my internet service is on it’s second week of vexing me, and I’d just assume go on strike like everyone else around here, in protest, I don’t think I’d get much sympathy, so I thought I’d better get my Thanksgiving post up.

ne pas touchez

I just saw a report on CNN that of all the countries around the world, the people in Israel eat the most amount of turkey, per capita, than anyone else. There are les dindes in France, but it’s almost impossible to find a whole bird, and one usually needs to be ordered in advance.

For one thing, one of those American-sized roasters would like be a tight squeeze in the average Parisian oven. And for another, well…there’s oysters.


I have no idea which country is responsible for consuming the most oysters, but this time of year there’s lugs of fresh oysters seemingly everywhere in this country, the one that I live in. And the amount that gets sucked down is astonishingly high. As Christmas gets closer, even the supermarkets get in the act and the wooden crates of oysters get stacked up outside, sometimes with men shucking a platter’s worth, offering ice-cold glasses of Muscadet to wash them down. I like the tradition of a bird roasted turkey, but I’ve also quickly adapted to the tradition of downing oysters and cold white wine, too. Our hostess have the foresight to reserve our oysters, and the poissonière was kind enough to ward off others with a stern Ne pas touchez! scrawled across the front.

Speaking of unconventional ways to celebrate holidays, this year, instead of staying home in Paris, we went to Provence. More specifically, to Draguignan, to pick olives. (On an odd sidenote; did you realize that there’s a sizable amount of people who read this site that don’t realize I live in France? I’m not sure why that is, but for my Christmas present, maybe someone can explain that to me. I thought it was fairly obvious…)

citroen handful of olives

Down in the Var, my friend Mort Rosenblum hosts an annual olive pick for some close friends (the hardiest ones, no doubt) who are willing to stand in out in the blistery-cold rain, bundled up against the brisk wind, and climb rickety ladders to pluck tiny olives off their branches.

tian wild olives

Actually, it didn’t rain the entire time. There were brief…very brief…moments of sunshine. (As in, the first few hours after we arrived.) But for the most part, the weekend was cold and damp.

Still, that didn’t stop the dozen of us from combing the hillside in search of the tiny black and green fruits, dangling from his gnarly old olive trees, their silvery leaves and plump olives catching any bits of the Provencal sunshine, and keeping our spirits up. Of course, anticipating sopping up the fresh-pressed oil—and the oysters—didn’t hurt much either.

mort picking olives

Mort bought his house, nicknamed Wild Olives, years ago and wrote a terrific book, OIives, about the noble fruits themselves, which included not just stories about his visits to various parts of the world that grow olives and produce olive oil, with political, and sometimes religious, fervor. But it’s also his personal story how he rehabilitated these long-neglected trees and got them to produce the gorgeous little round olives that I was now yanking off them.

olive branch

Aside from a semi-promising career as an olive picker (I’d grant him pro-status, but there was one unfortunate incident involving a broken strap and a giant pail of just-picked olives tumbling down a hillside), Mort is also a journalist and covers everything from wars to social injustices. Consequently, he’s done quite a bit of traveling, and while other travelers collect, say, snow globes or postcards, Mort’s office wall is lined with air-sickness bags from his travels all over the world. Unused, or course.

air sickness bags

But there was no need to sickness bags with the delicious food we prepared for ourselves. In between picking olives, Jeanette, Mort’s wife, made sure there was plenty to go around and we gorged ourselves on just-opened oysters and bulots, tiny little whelks meant to be dipped in homemade mayonnaise and washed down with…what else?—cool white wine.

Except being in Provence, and although the weather wasn’t exactly cooperating, an astonishing number of empty rosé bottles magically appeared each morning scattered around the kitchen and dining room. Go figure.


We picked our little hearts out, wandering from tree to tree, striking up a quiet conversation from someone else, plucking olives from a neighboring branch, or standing alone on a steeped hill, engaged in the meditative act of stripping a branch clean of the shiny black fruits and filling the wicker baskets we’d all been walking around with for most of the weekend, strapped over our necks.

lugs of olives

In the end, we’d picked almost twenty heavy lugs of olives, some black and bursting-ripe, while others were tiny, green and hard, which Mort insisted made the oil sweeter. I wasn’t so sure, but since he had a crew at his disposal, working our little fingers off, I think he was just happy to have all his trees stripped of their olives so we could race them to the local olive press, in nearby Aups.

Apparently the bakeries there make an especially good fougasse, and with all the olives and olive oil coming in and out of this relatively small village, it was easy to see how that was an entirely credible assessment. Unfortunately it was Sunday, and virtually everything but the local café was closed, so there we sat, toasting ourselves for doing such a good job stripping away an entire hillside of olive trees in just four days.

dumping olives before pressing baskets

In that same village, there’s also a black truffle market there that I didn’t make it to, although a few folks escaped for a bit to watch the secretive wheeling and dealing between truffle hunters, who comb the surrounding forests for the prized black mushrooms, and local chefs and brokers, haggling over prices and quality.

I like truffles alright, but I’m not as ga-ga over them as others. I’m just as happy to slug down some fruity, thick olive oil dripped liberally over pieces of torn baguette, rubbed with cloves of fresh garlic. You can keep your pricey truffles; if there’s anything better than that combination of olive oil, bread, and garlic, that weekend, I couldn’t imagine it. No matter what the price.

huile d'olive

So when we got to the mill, Jeanette had the brilliant idea of having a contest to see who could guess how many olives we’d all picked. I was certain we’d had a few tons—at least my neck felt like that, after having a basket loaded with olives weighing it down all weekend.

gâteau tropezienne dripping olive oil

But being a pragmatist, I lifted a lug, compared it to an overstuffed suitcase (which, to be honest, I had far more experience with than lugs of olives) and simply tallied up what I thought was about right.

I guessed 650 kilos, and Romain guessed only 150 kilos.

pure olive oil

I chalked his low stab at a number up to French pessimism, but la vache!, the little Frenchy was the closest. When we got to the mill and the fellow dumped our booty in the giant hopper, then weighed it, the scale revealed that we’d picked 301 kilos of olives. My neck was screaming for a re-count.

mort takes a lick

As they prepared the olives for pressing, we took a walk through the mill. The hyper-hygienic European Union had put the kabosh on those rustic, old-fashioned olive presses, but the modern machines were doing a bang-up job taking care of our olives, and we watched glugs and glugs of olives spewing out of the spouts. Mort could barely wait for a sip.

But we later found out that good things really do come to those who wait. And before driving away, the fellows at the press offered us a taste of some of their very own just-pressed oil, and we gladly accepted, sucking down as much of their oil as best we could, before heading back home.

olive oil & bread

That night, back at Wild Olives, we gathered round the fireplace to relax, happy to have plenty of leftovers to reheat from the Thanksgiving day fête. Oh yes, I forgot to mention what we ate for our Thanksgiving feast.

There was the aforementioned turkey, which was ordered in advance, which the poultry vendor took upon himself to stuff for us before trussing up. Since I had the task of making the stuffing, I was prepared to yank it all out and re-make le farce, American-style.

However when I opened the butcher paper, and saw the expert job that the volailler had done, I couldn’t bring myself to tinker with such perfection, which was a good thing. While most of the guests liked the Pepperidge Farm stuffing-mix batch we’d made as well (with a few contraband bags that were smuggled back from the states), like Romain’s prize-winning guess, the French once again proved that even in terms of stuffing, there are still a few things that some of us can learn from them.

Although I must confess: I love the Pepperidge Farm stuff. And so does Romain.

The rest of the meal was standard fare: baked acorn squash, cranberry sauce (also hand-carried from overseas), buttery mashed potatoes, and an assortment of desserts that included Baked brownies, pumpkin pie, pear sorbet, apple-mincepolenta crisp, all accompanied by an uncountable number of flûtes de champagne.

In a couple of weeks, my olive oil is being delivered to me from Provence. Each person gets one liter for all their help, and Romain gets two, since he won the contest. There were 53 liters in all, so I know when I go back and visit Wild Olives, there’s going to be plenty of good olive oil on tap.

olives olives

In the meantime, I’m waiting for my very own bottle to arrive, which should coincide with Christmas, and that all-important annual holiday—my birthday!…just two days after. I’ve finally shaken the chill of standing out in the cold rain, reaching and picking, and my neck is almost recovered. (For my birthday, I could use a massage, fyi….)

But in spite of the hardships, which included a dulling gueule de bois the morning after our Thanksgiving banquet, it was a lot of fun and there was truly something to give thanks for—that I’m lucky enough to have such terrific friends, and to be able to gather around the table with them during the holidays. To be able to soak in all the beauty of Provence, and to soak in plenty of just-pressed olive oil, too.

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  • December 8, 2008 5:33am

    What an enviable fun way to spend Thanksgiving!

  • December 8, 2008 6:43am

    That was such an utterly wonderful and satisfying read that I feel like I’ve downed a turkey and won my own bottle of olive oil in the interim. What a good writer you are David, and photographer too! and Romain such a good guesser! And were you here I’d take you to my chiropractor in thanks for the charm and wonderment you’ve afforded me in the last 20 minutes. He’d crack you up good and make you feel as flowy as that seriously oozy oil just glugging (loved that word) into those vats.

    P.S. What an interesting fellow your friend Mort. Anyone who collects barf bags from around the world is A-Okay in my book.

    Thank you very much for sharing all that. Enjoyed it tremendously.

    P.P.S. WHO doesn’t know that you live in oui, oui Paris? By the way, you should allow for a little play there. I’ve put in combinations like “Well Paris – duh!” and “That stuck up place that costs and arm and two legs but that I’d kill to live in even if in a Lilliputian sized apartment” but alas, your form does not take any of my clever iterations and accepts nothing less than ole “Paris.” — Paris it is then.

  • R.J.
    December 8, 2008 6:57am

    David, Thank you for that wonderful journey/adventure through olive country/Provence…as Milena says it was like we were with you collecting those marvellous little gems (although not getting the pleasure of tasting them). Each time you write of such adventures they are a joy to read and devour…you have made me hungry just reading this….yum, yum…and what a wonderful way to celebrate Thanksgiving, collecting and enjoying food with friends…

  • pepe acevedo
    December 8, 2008 7:06am

    I just knew it!!! you’re a lucky Sagitarius fellow…happy birthday from another archer

  • Mona
    December 8, 2008 7:32am

    Wow! Happy (late) Thanksgiving! What a wonderful way to spend a long weekend…..you are lucky indeed. :-)

  • December 8, 2008 7:49am

    My mother is from that part of the world! Her town was called Daluis and she always tells me stories of the countryside and how people used communal ovens, butchered pigs, your so lucky! The oil looks heavenly, French oil I think is really much better in flavor, especially Castelas.

  • December 8, 2008 8:28am

    wow… i am sooo jealous david… drooling and jealous…. olive picking had to be fun but as soon as i saw those oysters and the sea escargots… ay, ay, ay… those were definitely on our Christmas table along with baby eel (angulas), lots of garlic and clementines (not necessarily in that order). great photos too.

  • Murasaki Shikibu
    December 8, 2008 8:37am

    The olives look beautiful -like jewels – and the oil looks yummy!

  • December 8, 2008 8:42am

    It’s serendipity! I’m reading Olives right now, and I saw that sign (“Wild Olives”) and thought, “no…” but yes!

    It looks wonderful, and since I have a bucket of olives of various kinds waiting for me to devour them, I’m not too jealous. Apparently, I’m the only one who wanted to eat olives at Thanksgiving (on the appetizer tray), so I got lots of leftovers to enjoy.

    Seriously? People don’t realize you live in Paris? Uh, ok.

  • Murasaki Shikibu
    December 8, 2008 8:42am


    China – 3,826,363 tonnes

    And you see red spots in South Korea, Japan, France and NE N. America.

  • Nancy
    December 8, 2008 9:06am

    What a post and what pictures. Just fabulous. You put us there with you on the ladder and at the table and made us envious for your Thanksgiving celebration and not mine! Enjoy the olive oil, you deserve it, and keep writing and taking pictures for us to peruse! Thanks for taking us along.

  • December 8, 2008 9:31am

    I’m still stunned that readers do not know you live in France.

  • December 8, 2008 9:45am

    So what was this magical French stuffing? I’m always into trying something new! And how was the turkey? Ours (amazingly, bought whole, straight from the butcher without a pre-order – guess I lucked out!) was quite tasty. I think that could have to do with the turkey never being frozen, unlike in the States, or maybe it’s just that French touch with poultry – I still can’t get over how much better the chickens are here!

  • December 8, 2008 11:04am

    I am olive green with envy.

  • December 8, 2008 11:08am

    Now that’s a great way to spend Thanksgiving. Oh, and those mysterious rose and champagne empties happen to me all the time…

  • December 8, 2008 11:34am

    Looks like the most superb way to spend the holiday!
    I can smell the earthy, green, fresh scent of olives being pressed from your photos.

    Re: the people who don’t know that you live in Paris. Um…hello????

  • Mary
    December 8, 2008 12:18pm

    We just picked our olives a few weeks ago…what a labor intensive labor of love…we have sevillanos which are large but cruelly produce much less oil than the little olives that you picked. 8000 pounds yielded only 40 gallons of oil! I also cure some of my olives…I have a foolproof recipe for curing that is simple and does not require constant water changing or lye (which really scares me). The result is tasty, crunchy olives.

  • December 8, 2008 12:18pm

    Your photos are beautiful. What a wonderful way to spend Thanksgiving – harvesting olives and slurping oysters!

  • Amy
    December 8, 2008 12:45pm

    I wish I were there.

  • December 8, 2008 12:52pm

    Must. Have. Oysters. Now.

    I spent the holiday in Northern California. The night before Thanksgiving (and again on Christmas Eve) my aunt and uncle have dinner with some friends, and the main event is eating piles of fresh crab. Though not exactly your Provençal dream, it’s awfully nice.

    p.s. Does Romain know you call him “The Little Frenchy”?

  • Dawn in CA
    December 8, 2008 1:49pm

    Lovely post, beautiful photos. I am so curious about the whelks, having never seen them in the States. They look like a much prettier version of steamed clams – is the taste similar?

    We had a fun but tiring Thanksgiving with friends, including a deep-fried turkey (my first!) which was surprisingly delicious. The next night, hubby and I decided we needed some pampering, food wise. So we had steak, oysters, and champagne in front of a roaring fire. Yeah, that works!

  • DivaDivine
    December 8, 2008 2:56pm

    That sounds divine. I’m rustling up a recipe for olive oil cake as we speak. Nothting better than “green” olive oil on a hunk of bread with crisp wine and mussels mouliere.

  • Charissa
    December 8, 2008 3:01pm

    Sometimes when I read your blog I’m intensely jealous. THIS is one of those times. I hope, on those days when you are blue, you remember those olive picking days and ENJOY France for those of us who aren’t there!

  • December 8, 2008 3:49pm

    pepe: Hey, I’m the stubborn sign!

    DivaDivine: I love olive oil cakes. The one we made at Chez Panisse, which is in a couple of their books (although I forgot which ones) is a winner.

    Dawn: Bulots are like little conches (or is that conchs?) and taste like the sea, and slightly chewy. I love them.

    Barbra: Fortunately Romain doesn’t speak English, and I don’t think I could translate that either. Still, he won the oil. So what if I called him, “A little Frenchy” For a liter of that amazing olive oil, someone could call me “A little American”—although don’t anyone out there try it, because I’m not sending you a liter of oil, even if you do.

    Mary: Yes, some people cure their olives in salt, which apparently works well. I asked Mort if he ever cured his olives and he conceded that the folks that make cured olives do it so well, it’s not really worth doing it himself.

    Randi, Milena, and Fiona: I know, it’s kind of odd. The ‘captcha’ question for submit a comment (to thwart spam) I had to change from “What city does David live in?”

    And I get pr folks who want to send me all sorts of stuff. Just for fun, I write back, “Sure! Send it to me!” and include my French address, which always results in some hilarious backpedaling on their part. Hello?

  • Lisa T.
    December 8, 2008 3:58pm

    Hey, mom & I had Pepperidge Farms stuffing too! No need to smuggle it though. Thanks for the great post. My favorite part.. the picture of Mort in overalls! OMG! I’d never really pictured that.

    Best wishes to you, Jeanette, & Mort…

  • December 8, 2008 4:27pm

    Your photographs really capture the wholesomeness of your ingredients…I’m so jealous!


  • Jeff
    December 8, 2008 4:52pm

    Amazing David. What a great story so well written and presented. I’m sure you will remember that trip even after your shoulders get better.

  • December 8, 2008 8:12pm

    What a wonderful Thanksgiving and incredible culinary adventure. That’s my kind of trip! I can’t wait to hear how that liter of olive oil tastes…Spicy? Buttery? Green?

  • Mila
    December 8, 2008 8:42pm

    Ah, oysters, olives, and your thanksgiving feast, what a lovely post. Aren’t you a Capricorn (if your birthday is Dec 27)? I’d gladly give you a massage (shiatsu) for your birthday in exchange for a liter of that glorious olive oil from provence!

  • Mary
    December 8, 2008 9:02pm

    I am so hungry now! I may just have to see if I can revive our stale baguette so we can dip it in olive oil. I tend to have it with balsamic vinegar, not garlic. I love garlic fiercely, but after a bad bought of nausea while vacationing in China (the culprit being veal with garlic chips), I have to look out for my apparently sensitive stomach. Who knew?

    I made your butternut squash pie recipe for Thanksgiving and my family LOVED it, by the way!

  • Linda H
    December 8, 2008 11:05pm

    Even Walmart had fresh turkeys this year. A few years ago they had to be ordered from specialty grocery stores.
    Your photos of that thick green oil were marvelous. There is just nothing else like the taste of that new oil, unfiltered.

  • December 9, 2008 3:12am

    david said> if there’s anything better than that combination of olive oil, bread, and garlic, that weekend, I couldn’t imagine it. No matter what the price.

    Nice tiercé ! The only combination I would love most than this would be fine salted butter, bread and good chocolate (more britain than provence for sure). You’re so right, about truffles : nice product, but one can live without. Good olive oil or good bread on the contrary…

    (May I say that there’s no ^ on la vache !, and that you had a gueule de bois ?)

  • Steve
    December 9, 2008 9:48am

    You’re a Capricorn. I knew I recognized some personal traits.

  • December 9, 2008 11:08am

    oh that sounds glorious. i think picking apples (or the like) is so, um, meditative.

  • December 9, 2008 11:39am

    I am exceedingly jealous, but glad to hear you also approve of Pepperidge Farm. I tried my own croutons one year, and it just wasn’t the same.

  • December 9, 2008 12:42pm

    Capricorn !
    The best sign ever, for sure… :D

  • Michelle H
    December 9, 2008 12:53pm

    What a perfect blog to wake up to as I’m going to as pick olives myself today!! Do you have any suggestions for some marinades or other things to do with olives without owning an olive press? FYI: I lived in Paris when I started reading you blog!

  • December 9, 2008 2:29pm

    That sounds like the Thanksgiving of my dreams.

  • Skip Osborne
    December 9, 2008 4:57pm

    First, thank you David, for sweetening my life. Your blog is like a vacation. Now H_E_L_P! Every year I treat myself to 10# of Lucques on my birthday. I even go to the added expense of going to Whole Foods because they keep their olives refrigerated, and this, it seems to me, keeps them brighter and fresher- and they maintain the fruitiness and ‘snap’ that first made me fall in love with them. THIS year, I went in to ask about the 2008 crop and was told that a huge fire had destroyed the years’ fruit for a huge region and so W.F. wouldn’t be carrying them for a year. CAN THIS BE TRUE?

  • Carol Murgatroyd
    December 9, 2008 6:32pm

    I thoroughly enjoy your blog, David, and your quirky sense of humour.
    I hope you won’t be annoyed but I’ve written down some of the more obvious boo-boos in the text of this blog entry, fyi.
    I found them quite distracting and some of them are so obvious it suggests you might be thinking about something else while you’re writing.
    Thought you might need a nudge!

    I’d just assume go on strike?

    Israelis eat the most amount of turkey, per capita, than anyone else.
    Israelis eat more turkey, per capita, than anyone else

    ….one of those American-sized roasters would like be a tight squeeze..?

    ….there’s oysters.
    ….there are oysters.

    …there’s lugs of fresh oysters
    …there are….what measurement is a lug?

    I like the tradition of a bird roasted turkey?

    Our hostess have the foresight?

    Ne pas touchez! scrawled across the front. Of what?…no info in text, just the photo

    …there’s a sizable amount of people who
    …there’s a sizable number of people who

    Blistery-cold rain?
    Blistering hot perhaps or blustery weather

    But there was no need to sickness bags…?

    Except being in Provence, and although the weather wasn’t exactly cooperating, an astonishing number of empty rose bottles…?

    …striking up a quiet conversation from someone else…standing alone on a steeped hill..?

    le farce….la farce

    …uncountable number of flutes de champagne
    …innumerable flutes de champagne

    In a couple of weeks, my olive oil is being delivered to me from Provence
    In a couple of weeks my olive oil will be delivered to me in Paris …or arrive from Provence.

    I’ve finally shaken the chill of standing out in the cold rain, reaching and picking, and my neck is almost recovered.
    I’ve finally shaken the chill from standing out in the cold rain, reaching and picking, and my neck has almost recovered or my neck is almost better or back to normal.

  • December 9, 2008 9:04pm

    Carol Murgatroyd >You know, french people have this saying about doing something offensive to an innocent fly… :)

  • December 10, 2008 12:50am

    Peter Mayle’s stories come to life!

  • December 10, 2008 2:09am

    A beautiful beautiful post, David. This post made me pour myself some oil and eat a big hunk of bread with it.

  • December 10, 2008 2:57am

    Dear Carol: As mentioned, I’ve been without internet access (or telephone) since returning from Provence. Uploading the sizable amount of photos and text in this post took a considerable amount of time, and I had to do it in a public park, in freezing-cold temperatures, using the Wi-Fi access.

    Although I try, I can’t proof the posts as much as I’d like to. And since this is a blog, I do beg readers for forgiveness in typos and other annoyances in favor of more topical stories and notes from my daily life. This is especially difficult when there is no internet connection and I don’t know what else to do. So I’ll stop posting until I get access back, although I can’t say how long that will be.

    If someone out there can call Numericable in Paris for me and find out what is happening and when my service will return, that’d be great.

  • December 10, 2008 4:48am

    David, we love your texts with or witout typos, and we really appreciate your efforts to update the blog with new stories, even when you do not have any internet connection. Carol probably needs some more prune juice, what we need is some funny and yummy posts from our favorite cook. Alors bon courage avec ces ennuis de net :) !

    About Numericable, they’re known to have the worst customer service EVER. when I was dealing about some serious cable TV issues, I did not manage to even GET someone on their hotline, no matter the time I tried to wait. They do not even have an agency in my town, so I could not go there and talk to some employee. I bet there is some cable agencies in Paris, and my advice would be to go there and to ask one of the employees/vendors to find what’s happenning to your internet access, through the special hotline for vendors.
    As I was said by some friends, you’ll maybe see that it will be significantly quicker than to call and call and call regular hotline for news.

    Thanks for the encouragement. Their customer service is so bad that I don’t usually even want to waste the money to call them, but last week when I did, it was the usual: “Une probleme dans votre secteur.” (Of course, when I asked for a reduction on my bill, I could almost hear them laughing in the background-“Ha! Stupid américain!”)

    I’m going to go to their office today. They finally instituted a ‘take-a-number’ system, so the normal pandemonium of people pushing & cutting in line during the one to two-hour wait to talk to someone isn’t so bad anymore.(Although in Paris, just because they call your number, doesn’t mean someone still doesn’t think they should get to go ahead of you…) Bon courage à moi! : 0 -dl

  • December 10, 2008 11:24am

    I love love love this post!!! The pics are beautiful and the story was great!! Olive picking has long been on my list, along with making cheese, curing some pigs, and making wine( I just got to do that one in Napa!!!)

    I always knew the olive harvest was in the winter, but I guess I never really imagined how miserably cold and rainy it is…perhaps I will have to wait on that one.

    Last year in France, I helped our farmer friend slaughter Turkeys for Thanksgiving— I had never tasted a turkey so good. We threw a Thanksgiving for all our French friends– they really enjoyed it and were very intrigued by the whole pumpkin pie concept!

    I also loved reading about Mort– he seems like a fascinating guy. I have to go get that olive book!!!

    Thanks for such a great post!!

  • December 10, 2008 11:40am

    I have bought the stuffed turkey from Picard and thought it was fabulous. It doesn’t have as much white meat as those Butterballs from the States-the Mae West of fowl-but was easy to fix and maybe as good as I could do from scratch.

  • tammie
    December 10, 2008 4:30pm

    Dear David, I go to a shitty culinary school in France and the term’s coming to an end. We get to make a recipe that represents our country. Since I’m in pastry I have to make something sweet, I’d like to make s’mores. I need to tell the instructor if I need any special ingredients by Friday and I don’t know if they even sell graham flour in France. Molasses was impossible to get and we didn’t find vergeois or whatever to replace brown sugar until the very end. So, do you think I can find it here and/or are there any substitutes that would be easier to find?

  • December 10, 2008 5:15pm

    that is really a gorgeous way to spend a few days! I love your humourous pics (and really, really, do not ever pay attention to or pick over your spelling/grammar!)

    I had to laugh that you say readers don’t know you live in France, I am always a little amazed at some of the the USA-centricity around the net, like the rest of the world (which is really quite large!) has no internet access, computers, speak English or even have writing systems!

    plus, we have the audacity to use different measuring systems, and shock horror, have not only different time zones but OPPOSITE SEASONS! I’m sure you suffer some Gallic anti-Americanism, so it is certainly not a one way street, but the assumptions can be so hilarious. :)

  • Michelle H
    December 10, 2008 8:14pm

    Tammie, You might want to try to Naturalia stores. I know for certain you can get brown sugar there. I have a graham recipe that involved whole wheat flour, pastry flour, AP flour, honey, butter, and a pinch of cinnamon. I work as a pastry chef in a high end restaurant and this is what we use. Good luck!

  • December 10, 2008 8:31pm

    We appreciate all the work you put into this blog to share your pictures, recipes and funny stories with us. Please don’t be discouraged and keep up the good work!
    Is that a Tart Tropezienne on the picture? Would you happen to have the recipe?

  • suma
    December 11, 2008 1:21am

    david, i stumbled on your blog while browsing online for a recipe for macarons last night (a group of us are having a cookie exchange party on sunday and i wanted to try to make those little guys again – my first attempt a couple of years ago from a recipe from gourmet magazine was a disaster – my second attempt from the bouchon cookbook this morning was worse but my third attempt this evening from your website was almost a success as the only thing missing were the little feet, damn!!! tomorrow willl be my 4th attempt and i will try your recipe again, i can feel it happening, tomorrow will be the day i master macarons!!!).

    anyways, all that to say that i looooove your website. i grew up in paris and montreal and now live in vancouver, british columbia. i feel somewhat far from my origins back here in the west, although i do get to travel to france often, so it was refreshing to read your blog. i particularly laughed at the story about kids given baguette and a piece of chocolate, something i had and would do for my kids but a big no no here in bc! i love the fact that you had oyster for thanksgiving, we used to do the same when i was a kid…and guess what, that’s what i am making my little kids eat this year!!! i might even try to give them un steak tartare!!! so excited to have found a recipe for kouing amann on your site, and yes, please do post a recipe for tarte tropezienne. when i first had it in st-tropez a couple of years ago, i was so obsessed i had it for le petit dejeuner, dejeuner et dinner…in les baux, i tasted the best pates de fruits – any attempt at those??? do you have a recipe? those photos of the olives just bring me back to my beloved provence, thank you! and that recipe of vin de peche, i am making it this spring…i made vin de noix and vin d’orange with a girlfriend of mine a few years ago, we now need to try new things, thanks to you!

    i know what i am going to ask my husband for my 40th birthday, a trip to paris with my closest girlfriends, of course, and a tour of paris with you for all of us!!!

    looking forward to your next post, for christmas maybe?

  • December 11, 2008 3:58am

    Hi Tammie: I did a post, American Baking in Paris which might help you find some of those things around here. Happy baking!

    Cherie: Yes, it is. But honestly, I don’t understand the big deal about those tarts. It’s basically cream-filled spongecake, and not all that exciting. Still, since I was there, I felt it my duty to try one : )

  • Jessica
    December 11, 2008 12:13pm

    I loved reading this post.

  • December 11, 2008 2:06pm

    I spent my years with a couple of olive trees under my room outside of Aix. The memories of sea escargot, olive picking and picking up olive oil from the neighboring artisans are greatly missed. Love that little Tarte Tropezienne sneaking up in the post! One of my brother’s requested bday cake!! I must make one soon!!

  • Belle
    December 11, 2008 7:00pm

    What a beautiful post, David!
    You totally took me with you to Provence…Now I’ll be dreaming of what’s on their menu for Christmas!!

  • Carol
    December 11, 2008 10:22pm

    Carol the nit-picker here again…I’ve had my prune juice and just wanted to add that I wasn’t aware you were putting your blog together while freezing in the park without phone or internet address…would’ve held back on the comments for sure. I also didn’t realize, due to not being much of a “blogger”, that my comments would go straight to the blog…thought you would read them, take note or not, and delete. Thanks for your response! …and “un gros merci” for your blog…never a dull moment with you!

    Hi Carol: That’s ok, typos and errors drive me a little nuts, too. That’s why people who write books have editors, who give their words a “once-over” before publication. Maybe I need to find one for my blog, too! -dl

  • Carol
    December 11, 2008 10:24pm

    that would be internet access….yikes, my turn!

  • December 13, 2008 1:22am

    Wow! Thank you so much for this, David. I was ill this week, and waited to read this until for I felt well enough to savor it.

    It was beautiful, and well worth the wait. Thank you for enduring the hell you went through to share it with us. This Lebovitz junkie is both thrilled and satisfied!

    What a gorgeous way to spend the holiday! Oysters and olives for days. Good friends and plenty of wine. A cold nose and a sore neck. Bread for comfort and olive oil to lubricate the weary bod. And, with a turkey dinner to boot! Very nice, indeed.

    Thank you for treating us to the fabulous read and lovely views. Vicarious living at it’s finest!!!


    ~ Paula
    (of Ambrosia Quest)

  • Leah Greenstein
    December 13, 2008 12:46pm

    I’ve dreamed of picking olives and making my own oil ever since my first grape harvest back in grad school. I love the idea of an action-packed holiday with edible results. What was the oil like?

  • December 17, 2008 6:34am

    What a fantastic way to spend the holiday. I will look for Mort’s book. Sound like my kind of thing.

    The pictures are lovely. I really like the one of the man with the hat and apron pouring olives into a bin. ha

  • December 20, 2008 9:35am

    Thanks for a great post!

    We lived in the Drôme/Vaucluse for about 8 months this year, amid olive trees. In November, my husband had the bright (at the time) of making his own olive oil by hand. It was a comical process because I watched, for the most part, while he mashed and squeezed and filtered the big sackful he had gathered, only to have a small drinking bottle’s worth of olive oil in the end! Now we know why everyone takes their olives to the press!

    We also dry-cured a bag of olives, and those turned out absolutely delicious!

  • December 21, 2008 1:31am

    It is not true that “The hyper-hygienic European Union had put the kabosh on those rustic, old-fashioned olive presses.” There are plenty of them around, but they can only be used by those who do not commercialize their oil. We ended with 140 litres this year and will be sharing it with those who helped and other friends. You are the only ones I know who pick the olives into baskets as if they were 1er cru grapes. Everyone else just knocks the olives down into nets with bamboo poles or long rakes vibrated by an air-compressor known as “Olivette.” For photos of an old mill in operation last year see:

  • December 29, 2008 6:03pm

    Israel is the turkey capital? Go figure! You’d never guess it here, since you have to special order a bird days in advance if you want one for Thanksgiving.

  • Joan Boyce Nowak
    April 5, 2009 11:09am

    Thanks for writing about the olive pressing. We in Michigan are at the bottom of the recession and to top it off winter hasn’t quite relinquished it’s abhorrent hold on us. I was in dread of snowstorms due today and tomorrow but I was transported to another time and place by your writing. It all began as I did a search for celery root, and found your soup article, which had a link to this…it has given me hope that spring has indeed not forgotten us and will come someday soon. I’m going to have a go at the celery root soup, since I purchased one recently and I’m thinking it would be a good companion during the coming storms.

    All The Best!!!!

  • December 10, 2009 10:32am

    What a lovely example of how much care and appreciation go into the food culture and traditions in France.

  • Leslie
    March 14, 2010 3:05am

    I am just reading your post—– a few years after written. I have a small place between Grasse and Nice, and have 25 trees, which have been neglected for a few decades… would love to have Mort and his specialists to look at my trees, help them be productive for the next 50 years…. But thought you should know about guessing the weight of the olives….. since each lug holds approximately 20 kilos, it should have been very easy to “guess” the weight!! I am surprised that there wasn’t more talk about it while picking….the mills usually have a minimum weight (200 kilos at Opio) for pressing the olives separately — anything less, and your olives are added to the coop community press, of which you get a formulated percentage. We have only just pressed for the first time —– and ended up with just 1.75liters of oil!!! But like its price, it tastes like gold….

  • Danny de Guzman
    November 28, 2010 11:27pm

    I just finished picking some of my olives from my tree that I have been ignoring since I moved here 7 years ago but I don’t know how to process them.The olives have been great here in La Canada CA this year. After reading your article I was inspired to make my own olive oil , I just have to find a press and grinder or maybe you could suggest a place in LA that does them. Thanks for your inspiring articles.