Cooking With Myra: Learn about olive industry

By Myra Starkey
July 2, 2013 at 2:02 a.m.

Kim's Olive Oil Dip with Red Peppers and Feta

Kim's Olive Oil Dip with Red Peppers and Feta

My friend, Kim, called to ask if I wanted to get out of town for a day last week. I inquired what she had in mind.

"Learning to be a stripper," she said.

"Whoaaa," I replied. " I am not interested in any type of activity that involves being naked in front of strangers, and I am surprised you asked." My friend, Janet, started laughing, and I knew I had been tricked.

Kim had been looking at olive farms near San Antonio and had happened upon Sandy Oaks Olive Orchard located near Elmendorf. She is planning on planting some trees, and she is trying to find out all she can about the most productive way to do that.

At Sandy Oaks a couple of times a year they have a stripping party and Kim thought it would be fun to go and learn about olive trees while we were stripping leaves off of the trees. Never mind that none of us even knew why olive trees needed to have their leaves stripped.

Since we did not have a clue what we were getting into or even what the process was I guess one could say that it was bound to be a surprise for good or bad.

We drove to the orchard with the trusty aid of Janet's iPhone, because none of us had ever been to Elmendorf. I was happy to have a day off from the office and was looking forward to some hard work in the sun. Maybe in my mind, I had this vision of a trip to Tuscany without the tiresome flight to faraway Italy.

We all dressed for the occasion in shorts and fishing shirts hoping we could stay cool enough to avoid heat exhaustion. We had hats, gloves and sunscreen along with water bottles. There was the usual constant chatter on the way and had it not been for the iPhone electronic female voice loudly announcing right and left turns, we would have never found our way to the orchard.

The property is located about 20 miles from San Antonio and is one of the first commercial olive orchards in Texas. It covers about 40 acres and has 11,000 olive trees along with an olive nursery, event center, commercial manufacturing warehouse, olive press and gift shop.

We drove up to the scenic property, winding our way through tall olive trees bordering the drive. The parking lot is located near the gift shop, and we noticed several older ladies leaving the shop dressed like one would dress if they were having a brunch. Apparently, this was not going to be the agricultural labor we thought.

We were directed to the back of a barn-like structure to a small room. The space was filled with plastic tables set in a U-shape configuration and sitting around the outside of the tables were about 10 ladies. Jorge, the instructor and guy in charge, was in his mid-30s and was experienced in dealing with middle-aged to older women.

He was tall, dark and handsome and laughed a lot no matter what you would say. So charming Jorge asked us to take our place and then grabbed about a bushel of olive branches which he split up and set in front of the three of us.

I think we still could not figure out when the actual stripping lesson would start, but as we sat there and Jorge demonstrated the technique, it became clear that we had been duped.

The stripping of the branches meant removing the leaves from the hard, central branch while sitting in an air conditioned room. The leaves were to be placed onto a tray and then transferred into a larger plastic storage container.

Jorge disappeared. We sat down and started the process. I looked around and all the other women were already diligently removing leaves. Kim, Janet and I were much younger than the other strippers by at least 10 years. Every now and then, a worker would bring in more branches which elicited comments like, "slow down, they are just going to bring more."

I have to admit I thought about forming a strippers union to address just this type of workload. I asked what they intended to use the leaves for and the worker told me that they make olive tea and olive jelly. I quickly replied that we would like to be paid in tea and jelly for our efforts. We were doing all this voluntarily.

Many of the other ladies were from the San Antonio area and just liked to get away so they were professional strippers. At least that's what they called themselves. I did not want to correct them to tell them that professional meant that one got paid.

As you might imagine, Kim, Janet and I laughed a lot during those two or three hours of stripping, but we made a fair contribution to the whole process, and soon the plastic bin was filled to the brim and lunch was brought in.

Although we had not spent the morning in the orchard sweating, I had worked up an appetite and easily devoured the hamburger with fries. Had they ever heard of a Mediterranean diet? I shared a cranberry tart with Janet for dessert.

The usual orchard tour day is Saturday, but we were able to self-tour some of the property meaning that no one chased us down as we wandered around looking at the outdoor kitchen, outbuildings, olive oil press and olive tree nursery.

The gift shop had lots of testers for the cosmetic products and when we were all sufficiently creamed up on hands and face, filled with olive oil and olive tea we started our trip home.

Regardless of the stripping day, we had a wonderful time with each other and learned a little about the olive industry.

Victoria is rumored to soon be the olive oil destination of Texas. Kim gave me a delicious dip recipe made with olive oil, feta cheese and roasted bell peppers. I am also adding an olive oil dipping sauce for bread.

Myra Starkey lives in Victoria. Write her in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77901 or email



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