Showing posts with label Greek olives. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Greek olives. Show all posts

Friday, October 9, 2020

In Greece ~ An Olive Grove Getaway

The air was still in our olive grove this morning, unlike yesterday when gusts were strong enough to send empty flower pots and chair cushions flying. Strong enough to make us wonder if those olives, so close to harvest, would continue to cling to their branches ~ but as always, they withstood the storm.

Our traditional Greek ladder in our grove

Walking among the recently sprouted wild cyclamen the sunlight through the tree branches was soft; an autumn sun, hot, but not with the intensity of summer.

Morning in our olive grove

The quietude of the morning was so intense that the waves slapping the shore in the harbor below echoed across our hillside terraces. It was the only sound to be heard.

Stairs link the terraces in our grove

Our Olive Grove - it is one of my favorite Greek destinations and luckily it is only footsteps away. While savoring my quick getaway, I realized that I often 'talk about' the grove on FB but that I haven't taken you there in quite some time, if ever.  

Stone House on the Hill from our olive grove

Our Stone House on the Hill was built in an olive grove. We have a neighbor's grove to one side of us and our grove stretches several terraces down from our home. In the distance the hillsides are covered with the silver green of olive groves. We live in the land of the Kalamata olive. 

Olive groves carpet the countryside

Technically we are in the land of the 'koroneiki' olive, a smaller fruit with a high ratio of skin to flesh which is said to give our 'Kalamata oil' its aromatic qualities. The larger olive, that you would recognize as 'the Kalamata olive' often served on Greek salad, is simply called 'the salad olive' around here.

Some of our Koroneiki olives just weeks away from harvest

Our grove of 17 trees, somewhat small by industry standards and just the right size by ours, was an unexpected bonus of this house when we bought it. We knew nothing about growing olives back then - had no idea how to tend the trees nor when one would harvest the bitter green fruit they produce. Siga, siga, slowly, slowly, as they say here, we have learned. And have so much more to learn.

'The Scout' at work in the grove - February burn season

In fact our lives, just as most who live in this area, evolve around the olive grove these days. Whether it is time to prune, time to clear, time to burn cuttings, time to spray, time to harvest. . .each task is tied to a season, an ages-old rhythm of life in this rural area of Greece's Peloponnese. So important is the olive here that restaurants and retail businesses gear their operations around 'the seasons of the olive'. Many are beginning to close now in preparation of olive harvest which will begin in mid-October and continue through December.

The summer's drought turned some olives purple

Greece devotes 60 percent of its cultivated land to olive growing. Messinia, the region in which we live, has some 15.863 million trees.  So many olives are grown in our region, that by the end of the 19th century, there were 20 olive presses operating within the city of Kalamata, the big city to our north. These days the processing plants are located outside the metropolitan area in or near the villages sprinkled about the countryside.  We have five such presses within five miles of our home.

A favorite spot in our grove

 Sometimes though the harvest and production of the oil is secondary to the joy we get just being in 
the grove. It is easy to lose track of time when wondering among the trees pondering who might have planted them a century or so ago and the events that have occurred around them during that time. 

Life in the grove continues. . .

Looking at the fruit dragging down youthful branches that have sprouted from old gnarled stumps assures me that even in a year as unsettled as this one, life will continue no matter how upside down the world might feel.

A peace that surpasses all understanding. . .

Often times the early morning or late afternoon sun rays through the trees turn the grove into a peaceful sanctuary - the beams as powerful and reassuring as those coming through any church window. The Biblical phrase, 'a peace that surpasses all understanding' comes to mind. A moment of stillness, a few deep breaths and the inner compass is reset.  

Wild cyclamen at the Stone House on the Hill

Hope you've enjoyed your time in the grove today and hope we will see you back again when I will tell that pirate's tale I promised in the last post.  I've got to admit that I've been researching another article for a publication and just didn't get the pirate story researched and written.  

Where ever you are, we hope that you are coping with the continued COVID prevention measures and that you and yours are well. 

Linking with:

Mosaic Monday
Through My Lens
Travel Tuesday
Our World Tuesday
My Corner of the World Wednesday
Wordless Wednesday

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.

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


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.

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.

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.

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.

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

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). . .

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:

Our friend Yiannis (pictured) hauled the bags for us


PicMonkey Collage
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).

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. . .

PicMonkey Collage
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.

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’ . . .

PicMonkey Collage
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.

PicMonkey Collage
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

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


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