To everything there is a season.
In Greece, especially this Kalamata region, it is now the season of the olive.
|Olive season has arrived in our world|
The olive harvest season is upon us, heralding autumn's arrival. Brisk dawns and dusks open and close the ever-shortening days. The mighty wind that blows down from the Taygetos mountains this time of year has returned with its seasonal gusto. Some days it dances leaves and blossoms through the air and other times rips the awnings and hurls the sun-shade umbrellas out of their stands at local tavernas.
|September's sunshine gave way to October's rain|
When we set off in early September for a stay in our other world, Washington State, we left the lingering golden summer days of Greece behind us. We returned in early October to a much needed, but rather dreary, rainy stretch which served as the opening act of autumn.
|Our drought-stressed olives in August|
As olive growers, albeit small time growers, compared to so many in the area, we welcomed the rain after a long, very dry summer. That summer drought and heat had turned our usually green olives into withered purple pimples on the branches. 'They just need rain', Taki, who owns the olive processing plant, assured us. Then he added, that while the rains plumped them up again, it also served to make them attractive to the pesky 'dako' as the olive fruit fly is known here. Those tiny winged terrorists can (and do) destroy crops rather quickly by boring eggs into the fruit when weather conditions allow.
We didn't want to test fate with those inviting little olives remaining on the trees for very long, so we were among the first to be at Taki's olive processing plant when it opened for the season a week ago.
|Friend Jean will attest to the hard work part|
It takes a day to harvest olives at our Stone House on the Hill. It is a hard day's work, I think our volunteers would tell you, as we, like most in the area, harvest by hand. Olives are beaten from branches that remain on the tree and are stripped from those branches cut from the tree. Harvest and a first-round pruning go hand-in-hand here.
|Sorting the fallen olives from twigs is an important step|
The olives fall on plastic nets, enormous carpets, that drape over our steep terraces. As each tree is completed we crawl on hands and knees raking them into piles and pulling out large twigs and branches.
|Mary and Ulysses had at work|
This year's harvest was made more fun by having a team of volunteer harvesters join us for varying amounts of time during the day. Our harvest team consisted of expat friends, Chuck, from Kirkland, Washington, Jean and Mic from Portland, Oregon and visitors to the area, Mary and Ulysses, from the Seattle area. Coordinating the efforts were two local harvesters - the two who know how to harvest and directed the operation, I might add.
|Fellow expat Mic at work|
Real verses Imagined
I still laugh at the vision I once had of olive harvest, formulated in part by Frances Mayes and her 'Under the Tuscan Sun' book. In my imagined world, the day was more of an outing punctuated by a lovely lunch served with wine, perfectly matched tableware under those magical trees. After a few hours toil we would enjoy a repast of fine food and wine that would fill the afternoon.
|A quick break then back to work!|
That couldn't be further from reality here as our volunteer crew will attest! We work about three hours; about the length of time it takes to be unable to raise our arms above our heads or whack the branch hard enough to loosen the olives any longer (we are all boomers, after all). Luckily we fade about noon. Then we gather for cold cuts, cheese and lots of water, served on disposable table ware.
|Nets drape the hillside and are slippery|
The break lasts less than an hour though and it is back to the grove where the pitfalls of harvest include falling on your fanny because the nets are slippery or whacking your forehead into an unexpected tree branch and seeing stars for a few minutes. (Do I have you lining up yet to volunteer for next year's harvest?)
From Olive to Oil
|Our harvest at the oil processing plant|
Our harvest was smaller than had been expected as this was the alternating year in which we should have had a heavy yield. We harvested 294 kilos of olives - filling seven and a half 50-kilo burlap bags. Our crop produced 40 kilos (equivalent to liters which are close to quarts) of oil. Some of which we sold to the processor, some we will distribute to friends and family in the U.S. and some was earmarked for our volunteer crew.
|And here comes the oil!|
For those new to TravelnWrite, when we bought our Stone House on the Hill on a rural, olive-tree carpeted hillside in the Peloponnese seven years ago, what we knew about olive oil would have fit in a table-sized dispenser of the stuff.
As it turned out the property on which our stone house sits also had 17 olive trees - and unbeknownst to us at the time, a whole new segment of this expat world was about to open.
|Our Stone House on the Hill at the top of the grove|
Slowly, slowly, or siga, siga, (see-GAH) as we say in Greece, we've come to learn about the seasons of the olive. There is the early spring pruning long before the trees flower, the cutting of the grasses after the wild flowers are spent. After the olives begin to grow we move into the spraying season (bio, we are told) to combat attacks by those dakos.
Harvest, the crescendo of seasons, begins in the lower elevations where we are the end of October and will continue through the end of December and early January as crops on the higher elevations ripen.
|Our olives heading to press|
Freighters are now marking time in the Messinian Bay, waiting to be loaded with oil that will be taken to countries like Italy. Find that surprising? Well read this article from Epoch, pure Greece (there are others to be found on the internet, if you still find this a remarkable fact):
Is your Italian olive oil really Italian?
|Our fresh pressed olive oil|
Thanks for being with us and welcome to our new subscribers! We've been busy changing our world in Greece the last few weeks and next week I plan to tell you about it. . .hope you'll be back then!
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