Cork TreesIf anything is symbolic of Portugal's the natural environment the cork tree would come very high on the list. It is the thick bark on the tree that is harvested and processed into cork products.
At one time 70 percent of cork was used for wine and champagne bottle stoppers around the world. And Portugal provided over 90% of the corks used in all wines around the world. Portuguese cork is the highest rated cork in the world, as the cork is very dense, thereby serving very well to stop Champagne & wine bottles. The rise of the plastic stopper was a real threat to the industry although any wine worth its 'cork' would not use a plastic stopper. It was fortunate that just at this time the fashion industry discovered cork. First came cork soles, that soled & insulated slippers, then came a whole array of products from cork placemats to cork table trivets, cork glass coasters and fashionable items such as high cork boots, slippers, shoes, sandals, shoe heels, purses, briefcases, wallets, even skirts and vests etc. It is also used as a wall tile to insulate from the cold or noise and on floor tiles to provide a cushioning effect. We have given you 20 uses of cork, look around you in the Algarve and you will see many more. Take something back that is a genuine souvenir of Portugal. Cork is sturdy, resistant and 100% natural product from the forests of Portugal. Just thinking of cork, you could begin to imagine further uses. The by-products (ie leftover small pieces) are pressed together with a 'resin' to form any number of items.
Growth of Cork TreesThe trees must be 10 years old before the first harvest is made, and then the first layer of bark, which is about an inch thick, is removed. At harvesting time you can see the huge piles of harvested corkstacked at the side of the roads and watch the huge lorries piled 7+ feet high with cork, travelling north to market. number is painted on the tree to indicate when it can be harvested again. Most often it is harvested every seven years. The majority of Portugal's cork grows in the Provence north of the Algarve, The Alenteijo. The tree is a beautiful graceful tree that grows with in an inverted umbrella shape. There are vast tracks of cork trees in the Algarve, but there are even more found in the Alenteijo, where mile after mile of cork plantations lined the roads.
Olive TreeThere is an olive tree in the eastern Algarve that is over 2000 years old. It has been burnt in numerous fires that have scorched the earth, but it continues to grow, however it is hollow in the middle where it was scorched. In this hollow 'cave' and a cork table and chair have been fashioned. This tree has seen the Romans, Moors, and Christians passits way, and it will undoubtedly live for many more generations.
Olive Oil is said to the oil of the Gods. It can be cold pressed into many varieties& qualities of oil. The oil can be used in dozens of beauty products, from body oil, shampoo, bath oil, face cream, face and hair mask incense etc. It is said that Cleopatra made her slaves rub themselves with olive oil so she could see them glistening in the sun as they rowed her sea boats. As Cleopatra discovered there are endless uses of olive oil. Its culinary use is the mainstay of the healthy Mediterranean diet. Tuna and sardines can be packed in olive oil. Extra Virgin olive oil can vary in price from 8 a bottle to over 30 depending on the quality. There is no doubt it is recommended by naturopaths and doctors for the health benefits derived from it. The olives are harvested by placing a large thick plastic sheet under the tree, and the branches are hit with a stick, which causes the ripe olives to fall to the ground. They are then processed in large vats, covered with fresh water, the water is changed every day for a month (or they could be placed under running water ie a stream, or font) at the end of the month the olives can be seasoned with garlic, herbs etc. and ready to eat in another week. Olive trees in their natural form, are beautiful stately trees, but garden centers, who sell them, dig them up and prune them to a manageable size and shape. That is why you may see short stubby olive or cork trees planted in new Gardens. This is somewhat sad for such a tall stately tree, however, when replanted they could well live another 2000 years and be living 25 generations from now.