The California Institute of Technology, an institution not generally known for its harvests, celebrated two major ones last week. The first was the more celestial collection of images from Deep Impact's EPOXI mission, bringing us up close and personal with the business end of the Hartley 2 comet. The second was two tons of olives pulled from 125 trees located along the ambling pathways of Caltech's Pasadena campus by over 850 students and employees last Friday.
Those olives will be pressed into about 80 gallons of extra virgin olive oil (by Regalo Olive Oil in Ojai) and will be available for sale in the campus bookstore sometime at the end of the year. Anyone who has to walk through the campus during this time of year will probably be some of the first in line to buy a bottle of olivian justice, having been beaned by hard falling fruit during quiet, contemplative strolls.
Olive harvesting is still a relatively new enterprise for Caltech, even though some of the trees are pushing 80+ years in age. The first official campus-wide harvest went down in 2007, prompted by a pair of students who purified their own oil in a lab centrifuge and sent it to Caltech President Jean-Lou Chameau for a tasting. He dubbed it, “delicious,” and pushed for a larger harvest. That first picking resulted in only a few cases of bottled oil, making it one of the hottest locally produced commodities in L.A. for the few who had access. Since then, the groundskeepers have changed their pruning habits and overall tree care to facilitate bigger yields rather than visual appeal. That means this year, if you can get to campus, you have a good chance of getting your hands on Pasadena's only locally produced olive oil.
The price? $17.29, a price picked because it's “a very interesting number,” said Tim Black, a Caltech math student who did the research into the number. “It's the sum of two cubes in two different ways. It's either one cube plus 12 cubes, or nine cubes plus 10 cubes. Either way you get 17.29.” Right.
Tom Mannion, Caltech's Assistant Vice President of Student Affairs and the instructor behind the campus' very popular student cooking class, challenged different undergrad and grad teams to picking contests. Teams who picked the most per student would get to either have dinner with Caltech's President or enjoy a languorous 15-course feast. Other games included a tug of war with everyone's hands greased in olive oil, an olive relay, and an olive spitting contest. More gustatory events included raw and infused olive oil tastings, as well as an “escargot breakfast snack” of snails bathed in olive oil, garlic, and salt. Mannion also selects some of the ripest olives for a brining with an old family recipe provided by Professor of Mathematics, Emetrius Tom Apostol. The professor's recipe is provided below.
Tom's Greek Olives
From: Professor Tom Apostol
1. Wash olives and remove stems. Cut three lengthwise slits in each olive at equally-spaced intervals. Immediately place olives in container of cold water. Do not use a metal container. A food-grade plastic pail works well.
2. When all olives have been slit, pour off water and fill container with fresh water. Add two teaspoons of salt to each gallon of water.
3. Every day for 14 days, pour off liquid and fill container with fresh water, adding 2 teaspoons of salt to each gallon of water. By the 14th day, the water should be fairly clear.
4. Drain olives. In a large container put down layer of salt, add a layer of olives, cover completely with salt, and repeat until all olives are used. (It takes about 3 to 4 pounds of salt for 2 gallons of olives.) Let olives stand for 48 hours.
5. Rinse off salt. Cover olives with vinegar (white or apple cider vinegar is fine) and let stand for two to three days, according to taste.
6. Pour off vinegar. Do not rinse olives. Place them in a jar and cover with oil. Add bay leaf, oregano, and garlic if desired.
Καλή όρεξη !
Turn the page for more pictures of the festival…