I can see both our olive groves from my kitchen: the Italian varieties we planted first in the old horse paddock to the south of the house, and to the north, beyond the verandah and across the dam, another grove with Spanish and Greek varieties. My mother and grandmother cooked in this same kitchen. When the fruit trees are laden, I find inspiration for preserves in the little ring-binder where Mum kept her recipes. Sometimes the fruit comes from the same trees she once picked. But nowhere in her beautifully handwritten recipes is there any mention of olive oil. Another generation, another era: now extra-virgin olive oil lies at the heart of all our cooking at Gum Park, the name my grandparents gave the farm.
My olive oil epiphany came in a precious bottle of green, just-pressed novello oil a friend brought back from Sicily. I was not long arrived in London, where I would live and work for 25 years. I couldn't believe something could bring such flavour and vibrancy to the simplest of ingredients. Nor did I know then that one day my husband, John, and I would buy back Gum Park, near Naracoorte in South Australia. My parents had sold it when they retired, just after I left to try my luck in the UK.
My life's gone in one full, glorious circle. We've been producing and selling our two blends of certified organic Nolans Road extra-virgin olive oils - robust and delicate - for a decade now. In summer, it's the only dressing you need on the bounty fresh from our garden: tomatoes, cucumbers and zucchini sliced paper thin with shavings of parmesan. In winter, it starts and finishes the braises we love, and we drizzle it on soups and pizza.
The extended Nolan family loves a get-together. We gather over long lunches or dinners of home-grown lamb and vegetables, seafood from the coast just an hour away and local Limestone Coast wines. Lamb has always been an important part of life at Gum Park. But we don't dare to think "chops" when we look at the Southdown sheep grazing under the olive trees. They're strictly for breeding. It's Malone lamb we eat, some of which is raised in the paddocks beyond the olive groves. The premium lamb bred by the Malone family - my cousin Rosie, her husband Jim, sons Will and Nick and their wives Jen and Michelle - has a growing fan club in the capital cities.
Now, in autumn, the productive year is nearly done - the cereal crops, chickpeas, lentils and grapes are all harvested. Another excuse for a family lunch. Our friends Chris and Michelle McColl, of Kalangadoo Organic, join us too, and come laden with just-picked organic apples. We caramelise the Jonagolds for the tart. I've already pickled the first of our quince in their organic apple cider vinegar and they pair perfectly with the roast lamb racks for our main course.
The olives are changing from green to black. One Sunday in a few weeks' time the local footy club will arrive to hand-pick them, their annual fundraiser. I'll wait for the first oil to come out of the press like a proud parent - never forgetting my first taste of novello all those years ago in London.
VIDEO JOHN LAURIE
Nolans Road lentils, chickpeas and olive oils can be ordered at nolansroad.com.