CHRISTMAS OFFER Subscribe to France Magazines today CLICK HERE

Postcard from Provence

PUBLISHED: 16:30 11 February 2013 | UPDATED: 16:30 11 February 2013

Illustration by Tim Wesson

Illustration by Tim Wesson

Archant

Carol Drinkwater on life in the sunny south

I frequently extol the virtues of the olive tree and its fruits, but rarely mention its remarkable wood. In the early spring, after the harvest has been completed and before any buds appear, we prune our 300 olive trees, lopping entire branches from the upper canopy and from the centre of each one. This admits light, keeps the trees healthier and lessens the risk of humidity and fungal diseases, which helps to maintain the groves’ sustainability.

The trees’ hewn limbs are sawn into 35-centimetre lengths (or thereabouts!) and then stored in our monumental wood shed – where the dogs sleep – until the following winter, when they are carried indoors to heat our farmhouse, burning brightly in two fireplaces. Olive wood burns slowly, so it makes ideal fuel once the fire is under way. It emits a gentle perfume that is very soothing.

I love listening to the whirr of the chainsaws slicing through the hardwood branches and the warning calls of the men piercing the sharp, early-season air as the wood begins to crack and creak. I love the thud and crunch as the great thick rods hit the earth and start to roll southwards. The smaller, more slender twigs, are clipped off, to be used for kindling or stored in hillocks elsewhere on the land to fuel our summer barbecues.

My husband Michel has a rule that all barbecues are fired by produce from the estate, such as conifer cones, magnolia grandiflora and vine cuttings – we never buy coals or firelighters. He believes that the smoke from natural woods and scrub add to the flavour of chargrilled meats and fish. I thought it was the handfuls of garden-grown herbs we throw on the fire, but I never argue. Michel is the boss in our kitchen, even the outdoor one.

Olive wood is not a rarity, but it is precious and can be expensive. In ancient Greece, cutting down an olive tree was punishable by death. In 21st-century France, we are not quite so strict, but the felling of an olivier remains illegal. In Italy, all mature olive trees, aged 50 years or more, must be registered.

When I was filming in the West Bank territory for our documentary series on The Olive Route, I spent memorable days in Bethlehem with a Palestinian wood-carver who, each year, buys lorry-loads of pruned branches from neighbouring farms or olive groves as far north as Jenin. Occasionally, he even manages to find trimmings and smaller cuts from Nazareth.

He stores the wood out of the light so that it doesn’t crack or split as it dries; an ageing process that takes at least two years. Once thoroughly dried and aired, its colours are more clearly defined. Nazarene olive wood is light in colour while the cuts from Bethlehem have a rosier tint. His stocks are used to carve elegant rosary beads and crosses – 59 beads for one rosary.

Spending time with these wood-workers opened my eyes to the sheer beauty of natural wood and to its many uses. Our kitchen and dining tables are now graced with chopping boards sawn as slabs from our groves. Once they are sanded, I polish them with one layer of their own olive oil. Although the boards are hopelessly misshapen and not even flat, I am extremely proud of the result and value them far more than any factory-produced kitchen utensil.

Olive wood resembles a fingerprint in that no two pieces are the same: the colour and grain are always different, even if cut from the same branch. Yet another of this tree’s mysteries.

Article by France Magazine France Magazine

More from Travel

Friday, December 7, 2018

These welcoming and wonderful Christmas markets are just a short trip across the Channel away, so what are you waiting for?

Read more
Thursday, December 6, 2018

When it’s cold outside, indulge your love of French food and drink at one of these stylish pop-ups and events closer to home

Read more
Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Discover the Christmas delights of northern France with our top five Christmas markets in the region

Read more
Wednesday, November 28, 2018

From lakeside jazz festivals to chestnut fairs, get stuck in with these events taking place across France in December 2018

Read more
Thursday, November 22, 2018

You can ditch the airport queues and long drives, and hit the rails instead, says Daniel Elkan. The French Alps has an abundance of ski resorts that suit families, easily accessed by train.

Read more
Monday, November 19, 2018

Budget travellers can pay nothing to stay at bed and breakfasts around the world during Barter Week in exchange for manual, creative or teaching activities

Read more
Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Find out when your favourite French ski resort opens and closes this year and start planning your ski trip to France

Read more
Winter trips
Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Find out what events are taking place in France to commemorate the Armistice centenary.

Read more
Friday, October 26, 2018

The full route of the 2019 Tour de France was announced in Paris on 25 October

Read more
Tuesday, October 23, 2018

From hot air balloon gatherings to scallop festivals, there’s always something fun and unique going on in France in November

Read more
Subscribe for

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up to the following newsletters:

Sign up to receive our regular email newsletter

Our Privacy Policy

France Forum

Questions about France? Visit our free France forum to get help and advice from thousands of other Francophiles and expats. Topics include: property, tax, law, travelling, pets, education, healthcare and much more.

Join the forum

Most Read

Join us on social media

France magazine
Living France magazine
French Property News magazine

Enter our competitions

Win books, DVDs, travel and even holidays in France in our great competitions! Take a look at our latest competitions…

Enter now