Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Greece ~ An Ode to Our Olives and their Oil


Olive harvests have been a part of autumn for thousands of years in this Mediterranean region in which we’ve chosen to make our part-time home.  The importance of olives and their oil to mankind’s rituals and rights have been recorded since ancient times by the likes of Homer, Virgil, Aristophanes and Pliny the Elder.

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Kalamata olives
But for us, it is a whole new world – all a part of that daydream, that adventure we’d been seeking -- when we purchased our Stone House on the Hill in the Greek Peloponnese a couple years ago.
So Harvest Day is a big deal at our house. A Very. Big. Deal.  Frankly, we’ve surprised ourselves at how much we love growing olives.

Greece is home to some 520,000 olive growers,
many who use the traditional hand-pick methods.

            --- Bloomberg, 2014

HARVEST DAY

It’s been crazy weather here - sporadic downpours mixed with summer-like-temperatures -- so it shouldn’t have surprised us that Saturday morning dawned with a few clouds, some sun and was so hot and humid that you could work up a sweat with minimal amounts of movement.

It was olive harvest day at the Stone House on the Hill.

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A view of our back garden area -ready for harvest
We are among those small growers who use the traditional hand-pick methods. Our steeply-sloped property is a section of a  decades-old olive grove. The terraces are narrow and steep and not conducive to fancy automated harvest equipment. And, truth be told,  there is something about harvesting by hand, as it has been done for centuries, that makes the experience a richer one. That said, it is good we have only 17 trees.

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Part of the crew and their harvest tools
In reality, that method of harvest is a hard, back-breaking, sweat-inducing experience. The tools involved are as low-tech as anything made in the world today. Our crew this year included two American couples (both are friends and have moved to this area) who wanted to ‘experience’ olive harvest.  The Scout is joined in this photo with Chuck, our friend from the Pacific Northwest and David who hails from New York. David is holding the rake used to gather twigs from the fallen fruit and the other two tools are used for beating the fruit off the branches.

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The harvest begins. . .
We hired a harvest professional, Aris, and his wife, Donika, (wearing blue and red shirts in the photo above), who take care of the property in our absence.  We took our marching orders from them. Some olives are beaten from the tree and others from branches Aris had cut. The process is a mix of harvesting and a first-round pruning in preparation for next year.

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Olive harvest is underway in our area of The Mani
Netting covers the ground beneath the tree to catch the harvest. . .

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Olives are then put in burlap sacks
The olives collected, raked and large twigs and branches removed (the machine at the processing plant removes the smaller stuff). . .

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Larger twigs are removed before bagging the remainder done at the plant
Last year we’d been quite pleased to take almost three bags of olives to the press. It was our first harvest from a previously neglected grove. We were lucky to have any crop. This year was a bit different:

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Our friend Yiannis (pictured) hauled the bags for us

FROM OLIVE TO OIL


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Then and Now - a striking contrast in olive oil production
While harvest methods are still tied to the past, the processing of olives has gone high tech.  No longer are the olives pressed as much as they are processed.  The two top photos are of equipment used in the olden days and the two lower are at Taki’s processing plant where we take our harvest. (Taki is monitoring a computer screen that is alerting him to the status – in this case – of our oil being processed).

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Everyone - not just us rookies - take photos at the plant
Ours was to be the third batch processed Saturday afternoon, we arrived to find our bags ready to dump. . .

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There they go. . .
The leaves and twigs are separated in the first step and then those pretty little olives become, for a time, a rather repulsive looking sludge that smells like thick rich olive oil. The scents are so strong that you can smell the oil when you drive by the plant during processing hours.

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On the way to olive oil. . .
The sludge is stirred for a time and then is fed into a horizontal extractor that uses centrifugal force to separate the water from the oil. “Siga, Siga!,” (Slowly, Slowly!),” Taki said to me about the third time I asked, “Is that ours going into the extractor??!!”  From olive to oil took an hour and a half but it was at this point the excitement really started building.

Our harvest crew had gathered to watch the ‘fruits of their labors’ be turned into oil and voila’ . . .

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Oil to the left, water to the right. . .siga, siga!
Then there was oil. . . .lots and lots of oil. . . 60 kilos, (think liters) or about 20 gallons of oil.

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There is such an adrenalin rush when the oil comes out the faucet!
‘If you collect them early and are prepared to stock them,
you won’t have any damage
and the oil will turn out to be green, and the best.’
     
--- Pliney, the Elder, Roman author, AD 23 – AD 79


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Less than 24 hours old - a nectar of the Gods
Harvest Day was a long day. . .which resulted in a long blog post. Thanks for hanging in there and making it to the end of this one!! And a big hello and thanks to those of you who've written to tell us that you are now following our blog - it means a lot! Thank you!!

Hope to see you back next week when we’ll have some more Greek tales for you from The Stone House on the Hill. . .

Linking up this week with:

Through My Lens
Our World Tuesday
Wordless Wednesday
Travel Photo Thursday – 
Photo Friday
Weekend Travel Inspiration

47 comments:

  1. Thanks for sharing your experience of the olive harvest at your Stone House on the Hill! We did a shore excursion to an olive oil farm near Monemvasia in June while on our Windstar cruise where we got to see how the olives are harvested and the old equipment as you show above. Enjoy now the fruit of your labors!

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    1. We have been enjoying it Debbra and it is absolutely incredible (both the taste and the harvest). You should return sometime and participate in a harvest (here, for example it takes place from October into January) people plan vacations to come here and help with the harvest. Although on a hillside we are at a lower elevation and did ours early, they ripen later at the higher elevations.

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    2. That sounds like a plan, Jackie! What a wonderful way to immerse oneself into the local life and culture! And I'm sure there would be some time to enjoy wine, bread dipped in olive oil and good conversation as well!

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  2. Excellent! Harvesting olives from your own grove must be an unforgettable experience! The taste of the green fresh olive oil is insuperable, isn't? Wishing to the stone house on the hill, big festive luncheons and tasty, genuine delicacies on its tables. Olympia

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    1. It is such a great experience - hard work to be sure. But there is something so rewarding about it as well. We both had jobs where we were 'paper pushers' and sat in offices and handled intangible matters, so to be able to see (and taste!) the fruits of our labors is simply incredible!!

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  3. Oh, Jackie,

    Your second harvest of olives was such a wonderful bounty! And what a beautiful elixir it has produced! I know how exhausting picking olives the old fashioned way can be, as I've also partaken in this agricultural feat, and as such, I know how much it is appreciated, both for its health benefits and its scrumptious taste, and especially, when it is shared with loved ones drizzled in delicious delicacies.

    Lovely photos of your big day, my friend. Enjoy!!

    Hugs,
    Poppy

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    1. Oh Poppy, you understand how the arms and back start aching about the third hour and you know you are only half-way through the day. . . thanks much for stopping by and I hope one day I will be serving you some of that oil right here in the Stone House on the Hill!

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  4. Looks like your harvest increased this year multi-fold. A lot of work but such a magical reward. I can almost taste a crusty bread dipped in your olive oil.

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    1. They tell us that the crops alternate and this was our heavy year and next year not to expect much from the trees as they rest. So we've kept enough oil to get us through both years and we are already thinking about next fall. . .

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  5. Jackie, you did very well for your second year. We also have about 20 trees and use the old fashioned method of harvesting. I think that is such a wonderful experience and we get the whole family involved. There is nothing like being outdoors surrounded by the beauty of the olive trees.

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    1. We were very thankful for our friends who volunteered to help as if it had been just the four of us that did last year's, I think Aris would have had to not only carry those bags out of the grove, but us as well! Thanks again for sharing my post, Mary. It means a lot!

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  6. I already made my "Green Acres" comment on you FB page Jackie, but it still came to mind when I saw some of your crew and the harvest tools! :) So fascinating to find out how olive oil is made - it's another of those "never thought about it before" little miracles about everyday things we take for granted.If I lived closer to you and Joel you can bet I'd be volunteering for a chance to participate in an olive harvest!

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    1. I told our volunteer crew that they would never eat olive oil again without thinking of that day and the process - by the end of the day they were in agreement! Wish you did live closer, we'd have put you to work!

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  7. This is sooo exciting...so many bags...so much oil...wow
    reminds me a bit of when son had his large grape vineyard..for the first few yrs, we gathered them by hand, all the family and friends we could find...then as the vineyard grew, he hired professional equipment..then to the winery..bottles and cases of wine...so much fun and hard work...I wish I could trade you a bottle of his wine for a bottle of your oil. :) xoxo congrats on such a great harvest...

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    1. Oh what fun that would have been BJ! We've volunteered for the bottling part of wine making at our friend's winery and like with the olive oil, I never take those bottles for granted any more as I know the work that goes into producing them!

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  8. SO, SO interesting and so very foreign to me...something I have never thought about really. Yes, crusty bread and olive oil would be very good.
    This process reminds me a bit of making apple cider at home on the farm when I was a child. Thanks for the photos and step by step process. A good lesson for me.
    Farm Gal in Virginia

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    1. Oh hello, Farm Gal in Virginia, I am so glad you returned this week. And I suspect this process would be much like BJ described in her wine making above and your cider making. . .pretty hard labor, but what a memorable experience! Thanks again for the visit and introducing yourself!

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  9. Liked to see the entire process from start to finish. The color of the resulting oil looks gorgeous. A friend of Greece brought oil from here trees at the beginning of the year. It was divine! #TPThursday

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    1. It is such a lovely green color that it looks like liquid emeralds as you pour it. Love the linkup #TPThursday!

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  10. What a fabulous harvest! I didn't see how many gallons of olive oil you got out of that bounty. And I live on the black, ripe Kalamata olives in olive oil. Do you let any olives ripen for curing?

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    1. Just about 20 gallons. They measure here by the kilo, so we had 60 kilos (which is similar to a liter. We don't cure the oil producing olives, only what they call 'the salad olives' which are what we typically see in the U.S. labeled 'Kalamata olives'. Oil olives are very, very tiny in comparison. I've just planted a 'salad olive' tree so harvest was all of 8 olives - not worth my time to cure. . .but maybe next year!

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    2. Thanks for the reply. I learned something new. Entirely different olives for the oil or for the "salad olives". I have an olive tree in my back yard that mainly accomplishes making messes when the ripe olives get smashed into the bricks. But the birds like them. I tried curing olives once and it was a disaster. YUCK! One more question. I think I recall you said last year you pay the processor in olive oil, is that correct? I just bought some Kiss My Face olive oil soap, labeled Greek olives, so I'll pretend I'm washing with olives from your village.

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  11. How wonderful. The first thing I thought was how green the oil was and I can imagine the smell. Can you eat the oil immediately?

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    1. We actually sampled it while it was running out of that faucet. Immediately, is the most amazing taste, you'll ever taste in olive oil.

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  12. How wonderful. The first thing I thought was how green the oil was and I can imagine the smell. Can you eat the oil immediately?

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  13. Wow, such hard work but so worth it. How do you store all that oil? Is there an expiration date so to speak? If you ever need help during a harvest, I'd love to join you if I can!

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    1. Olive oil has a shelf life of about two years which is good because you usually have a big crop year followed by a low crop year and what you've produced carries you through it. I'll keep your offer to help in mind Jim. We usually have short notice though by our harvest guy - had three days this time.

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  14. I can't imagine cooking without olive oil. Thanks for the in depth tour. From tree, to tapenade to taste.

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    1. Sharon, thanks for taking the time to comment. Hope you'll do so often! Happy cooking (with olive oil) :-) Jackie

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  15. I've never seen olives harvested so found your description very interesting. It sounds like hard work, but it is always satisfying to enjoy food produced from your own plants. I imagine the taste is pretty incredible too.

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    1. A very belated thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment . . .the taste really is spectacular and not at all like we have from store-bought in the US.

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  16. That is absolutely fascinating - both the process and seeing that someone with just a few trees could end up with so much wonderful oil!

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    1. Cindy, Somehow I missed some of the comments on this one. Thanks so much for stopping by Travelnwrite and glad you found this post interesting!

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  17. What a story!I know it's hard work, but you must feel quite proud of the result...and so good. Nothing better than fruity olive oil. Yum!

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    1. Nothing to compare the feeling of accomplishment with. . .it was good, both the harvest and the end result. Thanks for taking time to comment, Anita!

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  18. Very cool, Jackie! I saw olives growing in Greece, but did not have the opportunity to see them being made into that delicious nectar! We did, however, have the pleasure of being gifted some freshly pressed virgin olive oil from the owners of a restaurant we visited twice while in Tuscany. It was magnifico!

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    1. Doreen, somehow I missed your comment and am therefore slow in the reply. Fresh pressed oil is a gift isn't it? Glad you had some first-hand experience in Tuscany!

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  19. How many bags this year that made 20 gallons? This is such a great post...exciting for me to hear someone I know harvest all this oil from just 17 trees. Will you sell your oil? Where? WAnt to kn ow more!

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    1. Carol, sorry, I got sidetracked and didn't answer your questions here. We did sell half our oil commercially this year and kept the rest - some went to 'pay off' those friends who had made the harvest possible and some is being stored for use throughout the rest of the year and we donated some of it to the food bank in our area.

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  20. If I was nearby, I would have gladly joined in to help, especially if I got to take some of that olive oil home with me. That's a big increase from last year. Will you be able to use all that oil yourself? (This reminds me that I need to buy some from the grocery store. It's really not the same, is it.?)

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    1. No Michele it isn't the same in the grocery store and I really do hope one of these days you get a chance to stand in an olive press and have a taste of this emerald nectar as it is flowing into the collection tub. We'd have taken you up on your offer to help!!

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  21. Congratulations on your harvest! Oh yum, how wonderful to have your own olive oil. I certainly enjoyed your post to see how its done. Enjoy the fruits of your labour!

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    1. We actually brought some back to the States with us this time so we can enjoy the fruits of our labors there. Thanks for stopping by Jill!

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