June 18, 2012

Photo Essay: Graber Olive House

I have had Graber Olive House on my list of places to visit ever since I first explored the Inland Empire as a month-long resident of Joshua Tree. But somehow, I never made it until today.

I didn't really realize, until today, how cool it is.

And apparently, it's haunted.

On the property - pretty much all of whose buildings date back to 1894 - you can explore a little museum  on your own, featuring old equipment and rusty old relics from the olive curing, pressing and canning operations of yore (similar to the museum at E. Waldo Ward & Sons).

But as long as you don't arrive at lunchtime, you can also ask for a tour of the rest of the facility, whose historic inner workings are still very much functional and utilized during the annual olive harvest.

A dirt road used to go straight through this barn...

...and you could drive up, snatch up some olives, and leave some money behind in this slot.

Today, the public is only allowed in through a locked gate during tours, likely given by Betty, who has spent much of her career working with the Grabers, but now only works weekends.

In the Grading Room, you can see the machine which sorts olives grown (and tree-ripened) at the Graber Ranch up north by size, from small (10 sixteenths of an inch) to large (16 sixteens of an inch), measured by nylon bands which are gradually spaced farther apart, farther down the line, to let the biggest olives drop through at the very end.

In the Vat Room, olives are cured in a secret formula (one confirmed ingredient is salt) in rows of vats made from what Betty says are sewer pipes.

Apparently you cannot eat a ripe olive picked straight off the tree because it is too acidic. It must be cured first, and the Grabers have become famous for their unique curing style.

Whatever the olives are cured in, the mixture is changed out every day during the curing process.

The olive "factory" is of no grand scale, and the Graber's olive output is likewise small, intentionally - maintaining the original quality of the family-run business over the course of over 100 years.

The real activity at Graber happens in the fall during harvest, with most seasonal employees - most of whom return year after year - applying in August and starting work in October. So now, a couple of months prior, there are only small indications of the flurry of activity that is soon to come...

At the Filling Wheel...

...women will soon scoop handfuls of sorted olives from the center into empty cans which are placed in each hole around the wheel.

At the Panama Paddle Packer, water measuring as hot as 200 degrees Fahrenheit will be packed along with the olives in cans...

...which will be sealed amidst a cloud of steam...

...and sent to the labeling machine...

...where the labels will be affixed to the cans with hot glue by local high school students who work after school.

But for now, in the summer, things are quiet at the Graber Olive House...

...besides the ghosthunters...

...and, according to Betty, the busloads of people who arrive and ask to open its doors for a bit of a visit.

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