‘Tis the Season to Pick Olives, tra la la la la la la la la…..

Empty boxes in the field waiting to be filled. Beautiful November day.

Empty boxes in the field waiting to be filled. Beautiful November day.

One of the first questions I am asked when I speak to anyone about olives is, ‘Do you grow green or black olives?’ The answer is that all olives start off their life on the tree as green olives and then they turn black when fully mature. I didn’t know that myself until I came here to Italy, I assumed, as do most people that there are two types of olives grown, green or black. If picked in the middle of October, some of the olives will have turned black and some will still be green. I also didn’t know how beautiful olive oil could smell and taste; it was a complete revelation to me. As a young child my mother had put olive oil on my feet, I did a lot of ballet dancing as a child, I’m not sure what the olive oil was supposed to do but what I remember is the smell, ‘Yuk’, is all I can say.

The first time I experienced newly pressed olive oil I was completely overwhelmed with the freshness of the scent. I had been picking for a few days and it was as though the tree, the olives, the leaves, everything I had been working in and around, had been brought together in liquid form. It was amazing and I honestly felt I could just drink a glass of it. I didn’t of course but I did taste it neat from a spoon without any bread, salad or any seasoning. It was delicious. Mild and fruity, there was a slight after burn at the back of the throat after swallowing. Perfect! The great thing is that after five years of harvesting I still get a thrill when I remove the lid from the 50 litre can of fresh virgin oil, breathe in the perfume and get ready to taste the content.

Empty 50 Litre Oil Can...most exciting picture I've posted.

Empty 50 Litre Oil Can…most exciting picture I’ve ever posted. I suppose I could have pretended it was a full can, (it’s dark inside…)

The next question asked is, ‘What is extra-virgin oil?’ Well, as far as I know it’s the oil that comes from the first pressing and when the temperature of the press does not rise above 30deg. In other words the olives are not pressed so hard that machines get hot and the oil is spoiled. A true extra-virgin oil must be tested to prove that it is free from additives and contain no more than 0.8% free acidity (oleic acid)… bla…bla…bla…I don’t really understand any of this so if you want to know more I suggest you Google it. The oil I have is bloody lovely, that’s all I care about!

Bottle of freshly pressed oil

Bottle of freshly pressed oil

Raccolta delle olive (Olive harvest)

Each year friends and family help to pick the olives. Whether you’re Italian or stranieri (foreigners) it’s the same. Most Italians families living in the countryside have enough trees to produce sufficient oil to last for the year. They use huge amounts of olive oil, not just for cooking but plenty for eating too. They take it with bread or pour it over salad with a little lemon juice or apple vinegar and seasoning. The average Italian family probably use around 40 litres a year, so I’m told.

Helping Hands

Helping Hands

Younger helpers always welcomed! Some eager visitors!

Younger helpers always welcomed! Some eager visitors!

 

More Helping Hands

More Helping Hands

Picking starts in the middle of October, although I have heard of some who begin very early in September in order to have very green oil but I find that a little to bitter for my taste. The press normally opens in October and operates until the end of November or perhaps into the early part of December. At the height of the season the press will be open for 24hours a day.

Spreading the Net

Spreading the Net

A large net (or two) is placed under the tree and then everyone scrapes the olives from the branches either with their hands or with a short or long handled rake. It is difficult sometimes to reach the very top branches but The Man usually gets up the tree with the clippers or a saw and prunes the tree (drastically!). The branches that are cut off can then be conveniently stripped on the ground; onto the net of course. It takes quite a long time and any newcomers are very keen at the start of the day but after about four hours picking the enthusiasm wanes. It makes your back, shoulder, wrists and legs ache and you find muscles where you never knew they existed! Coffee, tea and snacks are provided and then pickers are rewarded with a large lunch and lashings of wine! So it’s not all bad.

Lunch !

Lunch ! (actually 2012 lunch)

The Dog Helping (NOT)

The Dog Helping (NOT)

There are a few dangers associated with olive picking, falling out of the tree and being stabbed in the eye by the very sharp olive leaf. It happened to me a couple of years ago. It makes sense to wear eye protection. It’s also important to take care when climbing the tree, as the older branches can be quite brittle and not able to take too much weight. Take note, The Man.

The Man...at the helm of the olive tree.

The Man…at the helm of the olive tree.

Off to the press with a full load

Off to the press with a full load

Arriving at the Press

Arriving at the Press

Loriana and Maria Pia working hard at the press

Loriana and Maria Pia working hard at the press

Weighing in...one of these big boxes holds about 250k of fruit

Weighing in…one of these big boxes holds about 250k of fruit

The olives start their journey through the press

The olives start their journey through the press

Olives enter the first stage of pressing

Olives enter the first stage of pressing

End Product

End Product

Phew! Finished picking now until next year! Plenty of work left to do with tidying up and more pruning etc., Think I’ll leave that the The Man…and his dog.

Evening Market…

Piazza Del Popolo

Piazza Del Popolo

Fermo Antiques Market in Marche, compared to Arezzo in Tuscany, is not as big and doesn’t have as many furniture or larger antique stalls but the atmosphere is fabulous. It’s held every Thursday evening during July and August and when darkness falls around 8 30 pm it gets very busy and there’s a distinct hum of excitement, money exchanging hands and everyone looking for a bargain.

Antiques and Bric-a-Brac

Antiques and Bric-a-Brac

It was a wonderful balmy evening last Thursday and we met friends for a delicious supper in the Capolinea Café before strolling around the market and savouring the excellent variety of goodies on offer including local crafts, food, bric-a-brac and antique stands. The Piazza del Popolo was buzzing with a mix of tourists and locals enjoying the relaxed ambience, friends greeting each other, laughing and chatting in that familiar Italian animated way, arms and hands flying, purchasers and vendors negotiating for lowest or highest price depending on which side of the deal they were. The Italians strolled about in family groups, like little gangs, Nonna holding the hand of the little ones, Mamma or Babbo, pushing the buggy and straggling behind them, the teenagers eagerly keeping an eye out for school friends they could escape with to enjoy a coke and a conspiratorial chat.

Books and Photos

Books and Photos

Apart from the main square the market spilled over into the big road leading from the Piazza and several side streets; the stands here were mostly craft and local foods, salamis, pecorino cheeses etc., A favourite of mine is ciabuscolo which is a smoked and dry-cured sausage made from pork meat and fat, typical of the Marche region. I love the moist texture and spicy taste. Not sure it’s good for your heart though to eat too much of the delicious stuff. Olive Ascolane are another popular local dish; large green olives which are pitted and stuffed with sausage meat, dipped in breadcrumbs and deep fried. Yummy, my mouth is watering!

Olive Ascolane

Olive Ascolane

ciabuscolo (pink sausage on the right of the photo)

ciabuscolo (pink sausage on the right of the photo)

I loved this stall 'Any Old Iron' !

I loved this stall
‘Any Old Iron’ !

standsHope to make the market at least another twice before then end of this season!

Telling a Story and Being a Tourist…

On Friday 8th June we went to Rome for the night, specifically, so that I could be one of the storytellers at a storytelling event. We’d never attended anything like it before and I really wasn’t sure what to expect. I looked on The Moth website and I tried to follow the advice they gave. There were ten storytellers and each one recounted an incident (or two) that had happened to them during their lifetime.

I was nervous but once I got started I found it easy to do and thoroughly enjoyed it. The knack I think is to ‘act’ out your story, it keeps the audience interested. You should also have a bit of a surprise element in there somewhere, a bit of drama, some comedy, throw a bit of everything into the pot and finally, don’t let it go on too long. Thanks to the Beehive Hotel for setting up the evening, I’m pretty sure it will become a regular event.

pillars

Every time we drive to Rome we say we’re going to go to the Tivoli Gardens on the way home and then we don’t do it. This time we had decided that we would leave early on the Saturday morning to make our way back to Le Marche and definitely stop at Hadrian’s Villa and then the Tivoli Gardens.

pillars2 Hadriantree

Hadrian’s Villa was easy to find and the parking was good. We paid €11 each for a ticket which entitled us to go through the turnstile and wander around the ruins. We weren’t given a plan of the area, I think that was only handed out if you ordered an audio guide, but there were plenty of ‘you are here’ maps dotted about.

I had imagined the ruins of a big Roman House, what I didn’t expect was that Hadrian’s Villa was actually the size of a village. It took a couple of hours walking to see as much as we could. I loved the lake, which had fish and turtles moving lazily in the warm water. The wall, which I think was the boundary of the estate, is a magnificent piece of architecture. Hadrian certainly knew how to build a good wall.

wall

There were the baths, always a feature in any Roman ruin. It was possible to see from the remains, the extent of the massive buildings, the areas of beautiful gardens, the library, the guest apartments. I love visiting these places and imagining children running around the streets, shop keepers busy selling their wares and the rich Roman men and women strolling along the cobbled paths or sitting in the shade under the olive trees sipping red wine and eating, well, olives I suppose. Life must have been pretty tough for most of the population but I get an overwhelming sense of closeness to history when I touch the old stones and know for sure that another person has been in that very place well over a thousand years before me. It’s the old ‘shivers down the spine’ syndrome.

lake

We left Hadrian’s Villa behind us and went in search of the Tivoli Gardens. Our first mistake was in calling them the Tivoli Gardens, which is in fact an amusement park in Copenhagen Denmark. The Villa D’Este is the place one should be heading for, but even then it is not easy to find. We had to ask at least three times and drove around in circles for about half an hour. The site is smack in the centre of Tivoli but the signs run out and there simply isn’t anything to show you where to park or where the entrance to the house and garden is. It was pure luck that I saw a little arrow indicating a pedestrian walkway to Villa D’Este.

The Entrance to Villa D'Este

The Entrance to Villa D’Este

By this time my husband was becoming a little frustrated to say the least, then he couldn’t find a ticket machine that was working, so by the time we found the entrance his mood was less than amenable. We’d had a good weekend so far but the cash was low, another €11 each to get in and he only had €15. ‘Do you take cards’ he asked.
‘Yes, we take Bancomat, only Bancomat.’
My dear husband had a bit of a hissy fit about the fact that, ‘not only is one of the most well known tourist attractions in Italy virtually impossible to find, you only take Italian bank cards when surely a good majority of your clients come from all over the world!’ the voice was rising and so was the temperature.
I saved the day by finding €10 cash in my purse. Phew!

Eagle Fountain

Eagle Fountain

fountaingreen2

I’m beginning to bore myself with this blog so I’m going to wind it up by saying that even though we did have enormous difficulty in locating the Villa D’Este, with its wonderful gardens it was definitely worth it. The fountains are amazing and the gardens beautifully laid out. The terraces are steep but it’s easy to walk back up to the top as they have gentle slopes and many steps and if you follow the plan you won’t miss a single fountain.

fountainbig fountain tivoli1