The Blessing of the Olives in Sonoma


Father Kelly Blesses the OlivesFather Kelly Blesses the Olives – Photo: Russell Johnson

There is a wee bit of Pat O’Brian, Bing Crosby and Spencer Tracy in Fr. Kelly, a cinema-ready Irish priest with a lilt in his voice and, if we are to believe his sermon last weekend, a fondness for olives and the gin Martinis into which they are dropped.

Certainly none of the evil Father Merrin, played by Max Von Sydow in The Exorcist.

Father Michael Kelly blessed the olives, exorcised them from bitterness, offered the cure Saturday at Mission San Francisco Solano in the town of Sonoma, the northernmost of California’s missions.

Olive Trees SonomaOlive Trees, Sonoma – Photo: Russell Johnson

Amidst the quilt of vineyards in the Sonoma Valley are patches of dusty green olive trees. Fourteen years ago, the local tourism board wisely decided to extend the excitement of the wine grape harvest to Olive Season, the gathering, crushing and curing of olives.

Warning: Don’t pick an olive off a tree and bite into it. Untamed, it is a nasty, bitter fruit. And yes, the olive is a fruit, namely a drupe or stone fruit.

Mr. Olive around here is Don Landis who preaches the process of de-bittering olives rather than the common cure that uses toxic lye. I met Landis at an amazing event last year at Jacuzzi Family Winery called Olive Odyssey, a gathering of olive hackers and nerds, all with a passion for growing, de-bittering and fashioning the fruit into an astounding number of flavors, oils and tapenades. Most of these people don’t sell their delicacies but offer their recipes for free. The event takes place this year on Valentines weekend, February 14th and 15th.

Oh, and one other thing. There was contest to design a poster for Sonoma Olive Season, and the prize went to my wife, Pat Meier-Johnson, who helps me write and edit The Connected Traveler and whose passion is, along with travel, painting.

Olive Season Poster - Pat Meier-Johnson

Olive Season Poster – from Oil Painting by Pat Meier-Johnson


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