Olive Harvest…

olives

This year has seen a bumper olive harvest. The trees were laden with so many olives that sometimes they looked like bunches of grapes. To those of you who have never picked olives and imagine it’s living the dream – it’s not. But having said that, the first two weeks, with help from friends, the sun shining and the trees of a reasonable height then yes, it is magical. But it’s not so great by the time you get into week four.  The friends have gone home and you’re left with a hardened core of pickers. The weather has cooled as much as the enthusiasm, only the big trees are left to pick and each one taking up to two and a half hours with four people picking. One tree yielded 140 kilos…Amazing. Not as much as this one though – largest olive tree in Italy . The Man thought there was a bigger one in Sicily, but I can’t find that. If you know about it please tell us.

14boxes

14 ten kilo boxes from one tree!

Don’t ever ask The Man to cut your hair – if the way he prunes an olive tree is anything to go by then you would be lucky to be left with a strand or two.

From the lips of the local farmers, there’s a great deal of advice about planting, pruning, picking and pressing olives. It’s always contradictory advice too, one man telling you one thing and his friend/wife disagreeing. We’ve listened to it all, The Man and I. We’ve read books and researched the Internet, basically you end up doing your own thing and for us that can’t have been bad because – friends and family, we’ve picked tons of olives (3 tons in fact) and consequently many litres of oil this year. It is certainly worth the hard work.  I have never tasted any oil so delicious as the freshly pressed virgin oil from the newly picked organic olives. We’re not registered organic but the trees are not treated in anyway. They grow and flourish, only by drawing nourishment from the rain and sun… and a bit of love of course.

Before I came to Italy I had no idea that olive oil could be so good. It’s labour intensive to harvest and as The Man always points out, when you buy olive oil from the supermarkets for under €10 a litre then it cannot be good stuff.  There has been much controversy in the press about big oil companies cheating and mixing the oil but I don’t know enough to go into all that here.  All I know for certain is that our olive oil is wonderful.

oliveoil

Fresh green beautiful oil….

Olivespastavino will be going to England in the New Year so if you’re good to me and I bump into you, then maybe you’ll get a drop or two.

coffeetime

Coffee time in le Marche sunshine in November !

By the way, there’s a great deal of talking goes on around each tree during picking and I’m tempted to make notes or record the conversations because they are so diverse. Subjects range from basic recipes, shopping, best and worst restaurants, expats you love or hate, religion, politics, healthcare in Italy v other countries, tax systems… I could go on forever and so did some of the discussions. I’ve taken to sitting on a box while I lovingly strip the olives from the branches either with a rake or my gloved hands listening with interest to those declaiming and joining in as and when I can – I’m not so good in the sport category but streets ahead in the useless bits of information section.

 

olivespastavinopicking

Stripping the cut branches of their olives. I’m standing up, but only for the photo.

‘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.