Brigitte Bowers: Olive oil comes with some history

July 13, 2013 

Brigitte Bowers

The tombstone of Charles "Bloody" Bludworth, the first sheriff of Merced County, stands on a hill adjacent to Anderson Ranch, just east of Snelling on La Grange Road.

I am standing over his grave, one of about 30 in a cemetery fenced in by barbed wire and overgrown with prairie grass.

"I'm not sure why they called him Bloody, but I guess there was probably a good reason," said Frank Anderson. He's right. Bludworth was involved in several deadly shootouts, the most infamous ending in Joaquin Murrieta's death.

I am standing next to the remains of Bloody Bludworth because of olive oil.

Only an hour before, I was passing by when I saw a sign — "Olive Oil Today" — and I had to find out why someone might be selling olive oil out there on the road to La Grange.

It was a warm afternoon, but there was a breeze, and the Andersons had set up a canopy to keep their oil cool. Kay Anderson poured some into a plastic cup and gave me a slice of bread.

"It's really good," I said, and meant it.

The Andersons are friendly people, and they were happy to tell me about their ranch and olives. They bought their 40 acres in 1996.

Frank and his wife Kay had been looking for property for a long time, but they selected the parcel outside of Snelling because it is beautiful, and because the land rises into a hill with a view of the Sierras.

"I said then, 'If that hill is part of it, we're buying it,' " Kay told me. They settled into raising meat goats, alfalfa and olives. It is a lovely piece of property, with a small irrigation ditch that Frank turned into a rock-lined stream shaded by live oaks.

"I pulled out a bunch of willows, and some women from Snelling were upset about it, so I promised them I'd plant native trees," said Frank, who designed all of the landscaping himself. "I watered those oak trees by hand, with a bucket."

The Andersons' 700 olive trees are kept short for handpicking, which prevents olives from bruising.

"We don't water them very much, either," Frank said. He worked in wine before starting his ranch, and he knows that olives, like some grape varieties, produce better if they've been stressed.

Then he explained how the olives are processed.

"It's a field blend," Frank said, which means that the Andersons raise four different types of olives and pick them all together. Their olives are pressed only once and never heated above 86 degrees, which helps to ensure quality. They don't use chemicals in the pressing, and they don't spray their trees, either.

They started selling their oil at their roadside stand about six weeks ago, and seem to be less interested in profit than they are in meeting tourists who happen by.

"We've met people from everywhere," said Kay. "An Ethiopian minister, a German woman, some Dutch people, a chef from San Francisco. Most people buy a gallon."

Eventually, our conversation turned to history.

"Frank, take her up there to see Pioneer Cemetery," Kay said, and that is how I came to be standing over the remains of Bludworth.

I was on my way to La Grange when I pulled over for olive oil, and I was not expecting to stop, but once again, I have found that the unexpected detours are the best part of any trip.

I am almost reluctant to leave. The cemetery lies on a peaceful hill with a clear view of the mountains, but the best part about it is that it overlooks the well-maintained acres of Anderson Ranch, and it would be easy to while away another hour there.

Anderson Ranch Tuscan Field Extra Virgin Olive Oil can be found on Highway 140 at Merced Fruit Barn and Vista Ranch and Cellars. It's also available at the Fruit and Nut Co. in Mariposa.

Or, if you happen to be driving by their ranch on a pleasant summer's day, you can purchase the Andersons' olive oil at their roadside stand, right next to the trees that produced it. The Andersons can be reached at franksemail@peoplepc.com.

Brigitte Bowers is a lecturer in the Merritt Writing Program at UC Merced.

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