Nets, Saw. Rakes. . .Ready. Set. Go. . .this year's olive harvest took place at The Stone House on the Hill last Saturday. That quiet, peaceful sanctuary of a grove that I wrote about in the last post came to life with a flurry of activity as it always does during this annual ritual.
|Olive harvest 2020 - The Stone House on the Hill|
Under a Mediterranean sun with a cloudless blue sky background - and with temperatures that reached 77F/25C before the day was over -- The Scout and The Scribe set out to harvest our olive crop with the assistance of two paid workers and a good friend who had volunteered for this rather arduous endeavor.
|Raking olives from the branches|
Our grove is small by industry standards, 17 trees. It requires only one day's work if we stay focused on the job at hand. Luckily, the fellow who directs the operation makes sure we do just that. Because of the layout and the size of the grove, our harvest is done as it has been traditionally done for centuries here in Greece: by hand.
|Beating the branches, olives fall on the net|
Every olive is either beaten, raked or plucked from the branches. It requires skill in knowing which branches need to be cut from the tree and which simply need to be beaten until those hard little green pebbles full of oil go flying onto the net (or the heads of those beating cut branches below). Luckily, the one directing the operation knows which to cut and which to whack!
|Bagging the olives|
Our grove is steep-terraced, ribbons of narrow land that cascade down a steep hillside. Just climbing the steps between terraces is a good workout but add to it a few hours of beating branches and we former city slickers know that we have put in a real day's work.
|Koroneiki olives -small and filled with oil|
I laugh when thinking back to that romanticized vision I had of olive harvest (back in the days I read Frances Mayes' 'Under the Tuscan Sun') as I saw us eating a lavish lunch that I had miraculously prepared while also helping harvest, and we'd sip some wine and laze away a few afternoon hours basking in the wonder of the experience. The reality is that I prepare sandwich fixings in advance, pull them out when break time arrives. We sip soft drinks, water or maybe beer. No time to dilly-dally as the harvest needs to be finished and the fruit delivered to the local processor.
|Another harvest under our belts|
This year was the low-harvest year in the cycle of olive harvests; one year is high yield and the next is low-yield, as with many crops. So, harvest was - thankfully - completed within four hours as compared to over six hours last year. We gathered 245 kilos/ 540 pounds of olives this year as compared to 377 kilos/831 pounds last year.
|Nets are bagged up for this year|
With three of the five-member harvest crew being of 'boomer age' we congratulated ourselves when the last bag of olives was hauled up to the parking level (on the shoulders of the two younger crew members), because we'd made it through another harvest - a gauge to aging, in our minds.
From Olive to Oil
|We are up next!|
The real magic of olive harvest comes in the evening when, at the appointed hour, it is time for our olives to become that emerald green nectar, extra virgin olive oil. We often call the plant where this happens the 'olive press' but the reality is that, it is a processing plant with a complex system of computerized tanks and machines that clean, prepare and process the olives.
|That's our crop!|
It takes nearly an hour from the time they are dumped until the oil flows from spouts at the other end of the plant.
|On the way to washing, removing leaves|
It is one of my favorite hours in life. This was our fourth harvest and I was as giddy at the plant this year as I was that very first visit.
|Fresh bread, hours old olive oil|
Taking deep breaths of air, thick with the vapors of olive oil, sitting in the break room eating a piece of fresh baked bread dipped in hours old olive oil and watching the steady procession of others who are bringing in crops, makes the time fly by.
|Separating water and oil |
It really seemed so little time had passed but the owner pointed a finger at us, then wiggled it, bringing us to the final processing machine - the one in which the water and oil are separated. . .then in seconds another employee pointed to the machine behind us, where wonder of wonders, our oil was flowing out the faucet.
Our oil. Forty-seven kilos or 13.6 gallons. Two-thirds of our last year's harvest. A successful yield despite a drought and a long-hot summer.
|Last step: and harvest is a wrap!|
Another year in the history books. Another highpoint of expat life. Oh, what we would have missed had we not taken the chance to 'live differently' for a bit of time in Greece!
Thanks for being with us as we celebrate another harvest. As always we appreciate the time you spend here. Our wishes that you and yours continue to stay safe and be well. Hope you'll be back again soon and bring some friends with you!!
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