Origin of the farming of the olive tree in the Gard :
An ancient origin:
It is said that the olive tree is ‘the first of all trees' – Oléum primum arborum in latin.
It was already present in prehistoric times, it is the symbol of peace in the Bible, after the Flood and God's wrath. The dove brings back one of its branches with its beak, signifying restored harmony.
For the Greeks, it is Athena, the goddess of war and daughter of Zeus who bent herself on a piece of the soil and, by touching it with her spear, an eternal tree came out of the ground which allowed to feed, heal injuries and all the ills of men. She offered it to mankind and thus obtained the protection of the city which bears her name: Athènes.
As for the archeological excavations, it is in Asia Minor that is located the center of the farming of the olive tree, which has a gnarled trunk.
Since the 3rd millennium, it is in Crete that the excavations have revealed jars linked with the transportation of olive oil.
The olive tree would have then been cultivated in Egypt about 1500 years B.C.
THE PHOCEANS BRING TO US THE PRECIOUS CULTURE:
In 600 B.C., the Phoceans settlers set up in the city of Marseilles and bring with them the vine and the olive tree.
Since the 18th century, the farming of the olive tree becomes leading in the economy of the Languedoc-Rousillon region. Olive groves are planted, replacing the disseminated olive trees in the middle of other farmings such as the vine.
In 1840 there were about 26 millions of trees in France which represented 168 000 hectares. So, the Gard was the first olive producing department. The freeze of 1956, which is still remembered to this day, shattered the trunks full of sap and destroyed the olive trees which were cut back to the ground level. Only a third of them survived. Today, there are only 3.5 millions of trees in France.
For 830 millions of olive trees cultivated in the world, the Mediterranean basin represents 90% of the production in Spain, Italy, Greece and Maghreb.
France produces 0.5% of the worldwide production, but it is a production of quality.
THE OLIVE TREE IN CABRIERES:
(Source: «Si Cabrières m'était conté» by Alain NICOLAS)
In Cabrières, we can retrieve on the old town register of 1652, that the planted area reached 19% of the cultivable soils. Present since the Antiquity in the Gard and in the village, the tree represented an important source of revenues as well as the only ressource in fat.
From 1788 to 1820, multiple freezes damaged the farming to the point where the cost of one liter of oil was equal to two days of work for a worker.
In 1829, the olive tree covered about 132 hectares, the picking of olives lasted for multiple weeks.
Three mills were then in function in Cabrières and the harvests started after the All Saints Day and lasted until the month of february.
Between World War I which gave the supemacy to the vine and the freeze of 1956, the farming of the olive tree in the village reduced drastically and only two olive growers are able today to produce about two thousand liters. It is from one of them, Alain NICOLAS, corespondent from the academy of Nîmes, that we borrow these words, taken from the very interesting and oh so informative book «Si Cabrières m'était conté», now for sale in the mill.
The olive queen of the Gard that all the regions desire, the most fiery and full-bodied is the «Picholine» or «Coliasse». It would come from Collias and would have become major in the region thanks to its strong wind resistance. Its name of «Picholine» comes from the name of the brothers Piccolini, pharmacists from the city of Lyon who invented the debittering process with caustic soda named «olives à la Piccolini» which became «à la Picholine».
But there are also numerous secondary varieties and pollinators in the department: «Cul blanc» or «Blanquette», «Négrette», «Sauzen», «Broutignan», «Bouteillan», «Aglandau» (small acorn), «Lucques», «Rougette» (from Sernhac)… And it can be difficult, even for competent eyes, to recognize them.
All of them give a juice if they are collected at the right time, but of all trees to plant in our department, it is better to choose a «Picholine» tree, and to not buy it anywhere. Rather in specialised tree nurseries, there are a few of them, familiarize yourself with them! The oldest trees in Cabrières are close to the 500 springs, so many things must have been hidden in their drip line!