How to grow olives was a mystery to Patsy Taylor and David Henderson when they bought a 10 hectare lifestyle block near Paengaroa in 2006, in the appropriately named Mystery Valley Rd.
David Henderson, about to start processing olives.
The olive grove on Paengaroa’s Mystery Valley Rd.
“We knew we wanted a property where we could be virtually self-sufficient, but we hadn’t considered becoming olive growers,” says David.
However, the land they bought came with 450 olive trees planted about four years earlier, so the couple set about learning all they could of growing olives and making oil. But Olives weren’t the only appeal of the property in the quiet valley. It has a well-build 1950s former Lands and Surveys home, fruit trees, a large garden, sheds, room to graze a few cattle and horses, and it’s enough flat land to make hay.
For Patsy and David, who are teenage sweethearts from Hutt Valley High School, whose lives had taken them apart and overseas, the property is something of a dream come true.
David had eventually settled in Southern California in the USA and Patsy ran a café and catering business in the Barossa Valley in Australia.
Their paths may never have crossed again had it not been for David’s mother Betty, who kept in touch with Patsy and eventually achieved her ambition seeing of the couple she believed were meant for each other, finally married.
Patsy Taylor and David Henderson, in their new olive processing facility.
So Mystery Valley marked the beginning of a new life together. Patsy says the dream of living largely on what they could grow and make is partly realised.
Both also work off the property, Patsy running catering and a kitchen for a local retirement home, and David carrying out contract laser drainage, trenching, irrigation and bobcat work for farmers and orchardists – many of them in the Eastern Bay of Plenty.
Between times they manage the property, including the olive grove. In keeping with Mediterranean olive picking traditions, harvesting has become a family affair.
Aunts, children, friends and other relations arrive to help comb the fruit from the trees while Patsy cooks almost endless meals using her homegrown and homemade produce.
Large sheets are placed on the ground beneath the trees and fruit, harvested with small plastic rakes, is gathered up and transferred to bins, ready for processing.
David Henderson demonstrates how olives are harvested by gently raking them from the trees.
“This is a remarkably labour-intensive process, and we have been lucky to have had help from relatives and friends. We try to press the olives within 24 hours of picking to prevent any possibility of spoilage and ‘off’ flavours,” says Patsy.
“All our fruit is single cold pressed to give a finely-flavoured and aromatic oil.”
The trees are mainly of the frantoio and leccino variety with a few koroneiki, pendolino, picual and J5 trees. Their fruits are blended to create the Mystery Valley Olive oil, although some larger, very ripe fruit are preserved in jars as whole olives.
Left: David Henderson, with some of the fruit from the Mystery Valley olive grove.
Until this season, the fruit was sent to Bert van Heukeulm of Katikati to be processed through his plant.
However, Bert has decided to concentrate on growing, rather than processing olives, and has sold his Oliomatic 250 olive press and the plant, which goes with it, to Patsy and David.
Bert bought the press seven years ago, and processing his own fruit and that from other growers became a full-time job during harvest.
“I walked outside one day, took off my ear muffs, listened to the birds singing and the voices of the people picking my fruit in the sunshine and decided it was time for change,” says Bert, who plans to install a still to make essential oils from plants he grows on his property, as well as enjoy his olive trees.
David, with his engineering background and can-do attitude, was the logical person to sell the oil press too, says Bert.
David is grateful for the help and advice Bert gave him and Patsy to get the processing plant up and running correctly.
“It is an opportunity for us to, not only process our own fruit but those of other growers too, as Bert presses his fruit with us, as do most of his previous customers,” says David.
“We would like to encourage people with access to only a small number of trees to let us pool fruit so they can have the satisfaction of enjoying their very own oil.”
However, the pressure was on to convert an existing building to an olive processing plant, compliant with a food production facility, install the equipment and have it ready for May’s harvest.
“With a lot of help from friends and contractors, and excellent co-operation with council, we got there,” says David.
This season the plant processed 12 tonnes of fruit.
Olives yield on average between nine to 12 per cent oil by weight, but some varieties give only seven per cent and others up to 14 per cent – so a lot of fruit must be processed to extract the oil.
In addition to making olive oil and preserved olives, Patsy uses virtually everything which grows in the garden and orchard to produce a wide range of homemade preserves, sauces and pickles which the couple sell online.
Patsy Taylor makes a wide range of sauces, jams and preserves from produce grown on the property.
“We want to know that our food is simple and healthy. All our produce is grown with the application of natural home-produced compost and minimal application of sprays. Any sprays used are approved for use in registered organic enterprises. All our products are gluten-free,” says Patsy.
“The fruits in our preserves are grown on our property, or when we do not have sufficient are sourced locally, often from neighbours.
“Fruit used is freshly picked, or frozen, or dried immediately after picking for later production. The preserves are made in small batches and are genuinely ‘home-style’, with no addition of extenders or artificial colourings, flavourings or preservatives.”
In addition to fruit and vegetables, they also have pigs, chickens and steers, so the freezer and pantry are always well-stocked at the Henderson home.