Jack Dougherty of Bella Vista Ranch knows olives.
It was olives that bridged the gap between your hi-tech haven of Palo Alto and the Texas Hill Country heaven of Wimberley for Jack Dougherty. Mr. Dougherty had a distinguished career in the high tech industry and at one point supervised well over 1,000 employees. But his heart was always in the fruit groves and nut bearing groves near his boyhood Palo Alto home.
In Jack’s case, it appears you just can’t take the country out from the boy and he made his way to Texas and Wimberley the moment he could. He still travels the planet in search of information and technology, and techniques on olives, but his home and his heart are actually at Bella Vista Ranch near Wimberley, Texas.
We took a tour of Bella Vista Ranch a couple weeks ago and sat in amazement as he explained the story of olives to us and a few others gathered under some live oak trees sitting on picnic tables right smack in the middle of one of many premier olive groves in Texas and the united states. We had no idea we had stumbled upon one of many premier experts of the olive world there in Wimberley.
As he told the annals of olives, he related that the initial one who ever tasted an olive was probably not impressed. Raw olives contain an alkaloid that makes them very bitter and unedible. Some ancient civilization found that soaking them in brine removes the bad taste.
Olives have been around for centuries, but until recently they were only a condiment you served together with your meals or at a party as an appetizer. It was in the 19902s that health organizations took notice of medical benefits, specifically our heart health. With this particular discovery, new diets emerged using ESSENTIAL OLIVE OIL in their recipes.
Olive farming originated in the Mediterranean, but because the economy changed so did the use of the land that olives were grown. In the usa, California is our major grower of both green and black olives, but as a result of high prices of land, the olive growing is also shrinking. So now Olive farmers are looking for less expensive land to cultivate olives to produce the olive oil to meet the increasing demand.
It is apparent that Mr. Dougherty has spent lots of time researching olives. There is a report compiled by George Ray McEachern and Larry A. Stein, Extension Horticulturists from Texas A & M University titled ‘Growing Olives in Texas Gardens’, where they talk about growing Olives in Texas. They discuss where in fact the climate is good in Texas, and all about what olive trees need to survive. They limited the areas to East, Central, and South Texas. But that has been about it. Mr. Dougherty continued along with his research and settled in on the Wimberley area to be ideal. He did have some concerns about the weather, but the soil conditions appeared to be much like ideal olive growing locations in other parts of the world. Not too many olives are grown in Texas north of San Antonio.
The Bella Vista Ranch fits all of the criteria for being able to grow olives. The soil includes a lot of caliche making for great drainage and the temperature doesn’t dip to freezing frequently or for long periods of time. scholarly articles There are over 1,000 Olive trees on the ranch today.
There are 16 different varieties of olive trees grown at the grove, with the California Mission Olive because the tree of choice which is primarily grown at the Bella Vista Ranch.
Here are some things we learned about olives and olive production in Texas. Olive trees were taken to the brand new World by the Spanish. They first found its way to Mexico and then made their way from there to California with missionaries where the trees were first planted in 1769. The olive trees were known as Mission olives because they were grown in olive groves near the missions. This variety no more exists in Spain, but is popular in California and Texas. Using Mission Olives gives Olive Oil a very long shelf life.
The weather have not always cooperated with the Bella Vista Ranch olive trees. In fact a late freeze almost put the Olive ranch out of business. They had to cut back and replace their olive trees. Other concerns were that Olives are an alternating fruit producer, and therefore some years there are more olives produced than others, and you have to hand pick the olives and pruning is essential. Olive trees grow very rapidly and if the tree grows out of control, the nutrients are employed by the tree for the growth rather than the fruit. The Olive trees have to be kept pruned.
The Olive tree produces fruit in a fascinating way, the blooms create the olive cluster, then only one one or two 2 olives which are the strongest continue steadily to grow and hang from the tree. They go through a color change from green to red, Jack can go through the tree and decide from the texture of the skin and the color when it’s time to pick the entire tree. The olives gathered from each tree will be a combination of olives from green to red and also dark red. With the different stages of ripened olives, when pressed together should make a very flavorful olive oil.
When harvesting the olives, since they have to be hand picked, they will start at the bottom of the tree and pick as high as they can reach. Then they use ladders to pick more. The last step they will use is to lay out tarps or nets at the bottom of the tree and work with a device that looks like just a little rake to comb through the tree and when the olives fall to the bottom, they’re gathered in the tarps.
They will start creating a decent crop once the tree is normally 4 to a decade old, and each tree can produce up to a couple hundred pounds of olives in an excellent year. Since they are alternate bearing, one year you can obtain the maximum pounds and then the next get just a couple pounds. There is no solution to know which year a tree is a good producer. Pruning could be the key to producing more olives.
As was explained to us, the first one who ever tasted an olive was most likely not impressed. Raw olives contain an alkaloid which makes them very bitter and unedible. Some ancient civilization discovered that soaking them in brine removes the bad taste. In the Frantoio room where in fact the olives are pressed into essential olive oil, there is a centrifuge method called ‘Cold Pressing’ from the time the olives are harvested to enough time the essential olive oil is bottled, the olives won’t go past a certain temperature. Heat and light along with oxygen may cause a chemical change, and will effect the flavor of the olive oil.
Jack Dougherty of Bella Vista Ranch knows olives.