Thank heavens for people who don’t listen to reason. If it weren’t for stubborn idealists, we wouldn’t have electricity, women’s suffrage, or tomato sauce. And without Jim Henry, we wouldn’t have Texas olives. In the 1970’s and 80’s, researchers at Texas A&M toyed with the idea of growing olives in Texas. When the Italian varieties they planted didn’t make it, they put out what they thought was the final, authoritative word: you can’t grow olives in Texas.
But Henry, born of steely Texas stock, wasn’t satisfied with that answer. Parts of Texas looked so much like Spain and Italy, he figured it was just a matter of finding the right combination of tree, land and water. In 1994, he discovered a few 60-year-old olive trees fruiting in a backyard near Carrizo Springs, Texas – Eureka! Henry, with a gleam in his eye and a dream in his heart, planted Arbequina trees from Spain there. After years of trials, experiments and hard work, Texas Olive Ranch brought in its first commercial harvest in 2007, planting the seeds for a new specialty crop for our state. Today there are more than 60 olive orchards in Texas producing “green gold,” and Texas Olive Ranch is the biggest.
These days, you’ll find two other varieties growing alongside the original plantings of Arbequina: Arbosana, another Spanish variety, and a Greek variety, Koroneiki. Ever the experimenter, Henry has planted another 200,000+ trees in Victoria, where he’s planted many new varieties: Arbequina, Arbosana, Koroneiki, Mission, Picqual, Hojiblanca, Chiquitita, Tosca, and Oliana. His Arbequina oil is green and buttery with a subtle peppery kick. Cold-pressed within hours of harvest, it can hold its own against the best olive oil from regions where it’s been produced for centuries – and he’s got the awards to prove it. Is it the soil, the water, the wide Texas skies? All we know is that there’s a little something extra in our terroir, and you can taste that too: we call it pioneering Texas spirit.
Celebrate Jim Henry’s pioneering vision with a quick-to-make, deeply delicious olive oil cake that makes the most of fragrant, best-quality olive oil. Enjoy for breakfast, tuck into a packed lunch or serve with lightly sweetened whipped cream for dessert.
Citrus-Scented Texas Olive Oil Cake
2 c flour
1 3/4 c sugar
1 1/2 t salt
1/2 t baking soda
1/2 t baking powder
1 1/3 c Texas Olive Ranch olive oil
1 1/4 c milk
1 1/2 T lime, orange or Meyer lemon zest
1/4 c orange or Meyer lemon juice
1/4 c Paula’s Texas Orange (or other orange liqueur)
1-2 T sugar for sprinkling (optional)
Preheat oven to 350. Butter a 9″ iron skillet or cake pan and set aside. In a large bowl, combine flour, sugar, salt, baking soda and baking powder. In a medium bowl, whisk olive oil, milk, eggs, citrus zest, juice and liqueur until thoroughly combined. Add the liquid ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir gently until all lumps are gone. Pour into prepared pan and bake for about 1 hour, until a toothpick inserted into center of cake comes out clean. Cool slightly, then sprinkle top with 1-2 T sugar if desired. Cake keeps, well-wrapped, for 2-3 days.