The Olive Industry of Fallbrook

Originally Published In Village News Oct. 1, 1998

Contributed by the Fallbrook Historical Society

Don Rivers, President

One must look upon Fallbrook as it existed before the turn of the century. Fallbrook located on dry rolling hills has a very limited supply of water. Irrigation was limited to small areas along the creek bottoms. Therefore the first commercial crops of the area were those that would grow during the winter months when there was sufficient rain, such as grain, grain hay, pasture grasses and trees that would withstand the dry hot months of summer.

The olive tree, which is believed to have originated in Syria or southern Turkey, has been grown in the dry eastern Mediterranean region since about 3000 B.C. These trees were propagated easily by several methods - softwood or hardwood cuttings, suckers from the base of old trees, or by grafting or budding seedlings. It is also quite common practice to change the variety of old trees by top grafting. Trees were planted from 25 to 40 feet apart in the orchards and generally started bearing in four to eight years, although 12 to 15 years are required for maximum production. Yields vary with growing conditions, care and variety. The average annual yield for California is about 4,000 pounds per acre, however they are erratic in their yield. There was no satisfactory method known to induce the trees to set good crops every year.

Just when the first olives were planted in Fallbrook is not confirmed but Dr. Charles Pratt owned the Loma Ranch on South Alturas Street in 1895. The Loma ranch had a large olive orchard with its own olive oil press and bottling plant producing approximately 15,000 gallons of high-grade olive oil annually until 1919.

Red Mountain Ranch was one of the early major olive oil producers, with its own processing plant, which existed into the late 1970s. A man named Hicks in 1887 originally homesteaded this ranch, to the northeast of Fallbrook along the Mission road at the top end of Live Oak Canyon. The ranch changed ownership several times, and each owner introduced new varieties of trees and crops.

The original cattle pastures have successively been planted to olives and then to citrus and avocados, which were supplied with water from a series of wells and reservoirs on the ranch before the establishment of, water districts.

Bottles of Red Mountain olive oil and the carton they were shipped in can be found in the Fallbrook Historical Museum today.

George Hauck, one of the Red Mountain Ranch owners was president of a large auto parts manufacturing firm in Detroit, Michigan. He desired a direct communication link with the outside world, which was not available in Fallbrook at that time, so he established a private telephone line from the ranch to Escondido. Another owner, J. Grant Kingburg, added a large reservoir and extended the plantings. His telephone number attests to the size of Fallbrook and its telephone system in 1923 - his number was 5-F-2.

In the past old timers have spoken of the olive processing plant that was a "house on wheels" with sleeping, cooking and dinning facilities, that were hauled from ranch to ranch as the harvest progressed. A canning company opened in a building on Fallbrook Street between Main Street and Hill Street, which later hosed CalBrook Avocado Company and today Fallbrook Fertilizer, Feed and Farm Supply is located in the building.

Joe Barbuscia in a partnership with James Potter operated an olive oil processing plant on Alturas Street across from Elmer Allen's home and a 300-acre orchard on Olive Hill Road. There was a large olive orchard of several hundred acres bordered by Stage Coach Rd., McDonald Rd., Pepper Tree Lane and Fallbrook Street. One can find the remnant of old olive orchards scattered all around the Fallbrook area.

Joe Smarr who bought the old hotel in Fallbrook from William Ellis also owned a 160-acre ranch in De Luz. He had a house and barn on the lower end of the valley where Daily Lake is today. On the ranch was an olive orchard that was located on the north side of the creek across from the house. In the large wooden barn was a round concrete circular table pressing from which an axle protruded upward. From this vertical axle ran a long axle on which turned a concrete roller that was pulled around the concrete table by a horse. The olives were smashed and the juice was collected and filtered. The juice was placed in settling tanks, where the oil separated from the juice. The oil was then washed with warm water then filtered again. After a period of a couple months was allowed for hydrolysis of the bitter principle then the oil was processed and bottled for shipping.

What was of interest was that the lumber used in the construction of the barn was stenciled with the De Luz Railroad Station address. Also here was a large wooden barn with a shingle roof about 50'x50' and the largest timber in it was a 2x4.

During the period of 1913-1915 olives were the largest cash crop in the Fallbrook area. Along about this time plans were made for "Olive Day" Celebration to draw attention to Fallbrook and its olive crop. However no record of any celebration having occurred can be found.

Oil was the main use of the olive crop but another was "pickling." As anyone knows who has attempted to eat an olive directly from the tree, it is intensely bitter. This is due to the presence of a bitter glucoside, oleuropein. During processing this bitterness is neutralized, usually by treatment with sodium hydroxide (lye). The olives are immediately placed in a one to two percent solution of lye and water. This removes the bitterness. The lye was then removed with repeated washing with water. The fruit was then place in large barrels for 6 to 12 months to undergo lactic acid fermentation. During this treatment a 5 to 8 percent salt solution is maintained and sugar is added occasionally to keep the fermentation going. After the fermentation period the olives were graded and bottled in a dilute brine.

Go To:

Fallbrook Historical Society
Fallbrook, CA Area Information: History
Elizabeth Yamaguchi's Writings On Fallbrook History

Copyright © 1998-1999 by Fallbrook Historical Society
Permission is freely granted to reproduce any or all of this page as long as credit is given to the Fallbrook Historical Society at this source:
Comments and feedback: Don and Mary Rivers
Last update: 24 January 1999.