Showing posts with label olive oil. Show all posts
Showing posts with label olive oil. Show all posts

Monday, November 1, 2021

In Greece ~ To Everything A Season

 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.

Olive Harvest

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?

The world seems to love Italian olive oil, and many bottles of oil seem to be packaged to display their Italian origin.  But here comes the crunch, when you buy a bottle of oil that says Italian on the label, if you check the small print on the label you may see that what you are really getting is Italian oil blended with olive oil from other countries,  especially with premium quality extra virgin olive oil from Greece.

Italy uses and exports more olive oil than its farmers can grow.  Natural olive oil from Greece tastes just as good, if not better, than olive oil from other countries, but it is cheaper to produce. Italian brands buy Greek oil, mix it with their own and sell it to you, quite legally and stated on the label, as Italian product.  Greek olive growers grow and press more olives than home consumption can use and so they can sell their excess olives to Italy.

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!

Linking sometime soon with:

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Where There's Smoke ~ There's Olive Harvest

Just as they have for centuries, 
the rituals of olive harvest in Greece's Peloponnese are heralding in 
the month of November. . .

Tourist season gives way to olive harvest season

The signs of seasonal change begins here about October 28, Saint Dimitrios' Name Day. It is, on or near, that day that several tavernas in the surrounding villages will close for 'the season'. Tractors cease hauling boats from the harbor, pulling trailers filled with harvest equipment instead. Beach toys for tourists disappear from store shelves, replaced by tools and oil storage containers used in olive harvest.

But it is the smoke from fires on November 1st that signal 'the season of the olive' is upon us.  From a practical standpoint, the first day of the month is the first day we can legally burn brush and cuttings accumulated during the hot, dry fire-danger spring and summer.  The underbrush in groves is also being cut and burned to make way for harvest nets.

Olive harvest spans several months, continuing into late December or early January in this part of Greece.

Koronieki olives grown at The Stone House on the Hill 

The olive grown here for oil - most often referred to as the Kalamata olive -- is the koronieki variety. The small fruit, barely the size of the little finger's nail, is packed with oil, which in turn is packed with poly-phenols, a natural anti-oxidant that has been linked to heart-attack and cancer prevention. Its history in Greek horticulture dates back thousands of years.

While the large growers enlist paid workers and volunteer crews to assist with the harvest, many of the groves are still 'mom and pop' operations where harvesting is done literally by a couple who've done their task together for decades. Many of the groves are like ours - grown on steep terraced hillsides inaccessible by machines even if machines were available. So our harvest is also done by hand.

Daco destroyed olives - 2018

Last year most of the growers - large and small - in our area lost their olive crops to the invasive 'daco' (Dacus oleae)  the olive fruit fly that devastated crops in neighboring countries before heading our direction.  Weather conditions were perfect for crop decimation. Our small grove of 17 trees wasn't spared: the olives had shriveled on the trees by August. But for us, it is a hobby crop; sadly, for many we know, it was a major lost source of income.

One doesn't think about the ripple effect of crop failure until it surrounds you. Restaurants resorted to buying olives instead of serving those they had grown. Residents had less money so shopping was cut back as was dining out and entertainment spending. From retail to restaurants - everyone in the village was touched by the crop failures.

A New Year ~ A New Crop

Harvest at The Stone House on the Hill 2019

The joy surrounding this year's harvest is palpable in the villages. 

Our dry, hot summer was the perfect condition for thwarting that pesky fly. Just to be on the safe side some, like us, augmented with use of 'bio' (safe) sprays that tackled the fly without harm to humans. 

Everywhere, the tree branches droop with olives. There's a near holiday feel to the herculean harvest task ahead.

In the five years since we bought our Stone House on the Hill, the olive harvest has became as big an event for us as for those life-long growers around us. We know we have some new readers since I last told you about harvest on the hill so sit back and join us on this year's harvest journey:

Volunteers work long and hard to make it happen

Our crew consisted of two paid workers (the two who directed the operation as they knew what they were doing) and six 'boomers': the two of us and two couples that had volunteered to help. (One couple flew in from Washington State and assured us at the end of the harvest day that they will come back to visit but NOT during harvest again).

While I write about the joys and the magic of harvest -- of which there are many -- I can assure you, it is a back-breaking, muscle-stretching hard day. We harvested our 17 trees in six hours: the first two hours were fun, the next two tolerable and the last two were outright torture.

The Scout at work

Humongous plastic nets were draped over the terraces to catch the olives. Olives are beaten or raked from the tree or from those branches that have been cut off of the tree.  Think multi-tasking: harvesting and pruning at the same time.

On hands and knees the quality control step is the final one in the grove

Part of our crew was charged with hauling the cut branches down the terraces to a burn pile on the lower level. Others were the 'harvesters' beating, pounding and raking branches until they couldn't raise their arms.  Then came the 'quality control' team who crawled on their hands and knees picking twigs and larger stubble from the olives, rolling those carpets of fruit until they are in a neat pile and ready for the burlap bags. 

Ares who directs the operation - Photo: Marti Bartlett

Thankfully the younger and stronger members of the team hauled the 50 kilo bags up the hill.

Our 377 kilos (831 pounds) of olives were deposited at the local olive press (nowadays a computerized but complex machine ) and at 7 p.m. the hour-long processing of turning the fruit to oil began:

Our olives enter the processor

Olives are first separated from remaining leaves and stems, then washed then the processing begins.

Oil to the left and water to the right - Photo: Marti Bartlett

A swirling mass of green 'goo' is churned until it arrives at the separator where water and oil have a parting of the ways. . . 

And then there it is: thick, rich olive oil!

. . .minutes later, the moment the day has been leading to....  olive oil!  And for us, lots of it this year. Our yield was 70 kilos or 18.5 gallons of emerald green, spicy olive oil.

It is anticipated that Greece will produce 300,000 tons of oil this year, a 60% increase over last and 11% more than the usual annual average.  It will contribute to the European Union's member state's projected production of 2.1 million tons of olive oil.

End of the day and I am still upright! - Photo: Marti Bartlett

It is an amazing experience and each time harvest day ends I say a little prayer that we'll still be physically able next year to roll up the shirt-sleeves, get a bit dirty and a lot tired, and be a part of such a time honored tradition.

A 'tsipouro' toast to a good year - Photo Marti Bartlett

Our harvest was a success thanks to the expertise of Artan Koxhai, and our good friends and volunteers:  Mary and Greg Burke who traveled from Washington State to assist and Marti and Chuck Barlett, fellow expat friends from Kirkland Washington here in the village. And of course,Taki and his son Giannis who turned our fruit into oil.  

Another thanks to photographer Marti Bartlett for the photos she shared for use in this post.

And thanks for being with us on this harvest journey!  Welcome to all you new subscribers ~ hope you'll all be back next week when we are off to Monemvasia, one of the most enchanted spots in the Peloponnese!  Until then ~ wishes for safe travels to you and yours!

Linking sometime soon with:

Through My Lens
Our World Tuesday
Wordless Wednesday

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

‘Twas the Season in Kalamata ~ The Olive Oil Season

Trees and buildings were decked out for Christmas, but it was the mountains of olives that gave a real seasonal feel to the place. Our mid-December arrival in The Mani put us smack dab in the middle of olive harvest and The Olive Oil Season. 

Decorated tree surrounded by olives - Village of Nomitsis
The home we were there to purchase in Greece’s Peloponnese peninsula is an hour’s drive south of the city of Kalamata.

“Kalamata, isn’t that an olive?” we are asked.
“You bet – the olive!” we answer.
Lots of olives. . . tons of olives . . .and their oil.

PicMonkey Collage
Kalamata olives
Seems everyone is familiar with the table variety called the “Kalamata olive”.
In this area of Greece the olive varietals are far more specific: a Myrtoya (hearty in areas of drought), Mavroya (early maturing), Kalamon (the classic table variety) and Mastoides (local oil variety of medium-sized with a pointy shape). That middle photo is one of our olives which I suspect is the Mastoides type.*

In everyday conversation around here olives are simply referred to as ‘oil’ or ‘salade’ varietals.

PicMonkey Collage
Oil containers on sale at Katerina's Supermarket
Olive oil is serious business in the Messinia region, with some 15 million trees producing 60,000 tons of oil annually.*  Oil storage containers are for sale far and wide. The photos above are of those for sale at our local supermarket.

Bags of olives awaiting pressing at one of the village presses
By day, the olive groves that carpet this part of The Mani were alive with harvest activities. Many of the workers come from neighboring Albania; the country providing agricultural labor much as Mexican laborers do in the United States.  Messinia has some 300 olive presses and more than 40,000 are employed in the olive oil industry.*

Saturday Night at Takis

While we love the idea of growing olives and producing olive oil we had no clue how it was done, we told our friend Giannis’ while dining at his taverna, just below our house on the hill. Turned out the olive press nearest us is owned and operated by his uncle, Takis.

So, Giannis encouraged us to stop by and visit the operation any time. . .

PicMonkey Collage
Saturday night at the olive oil press
Unlike in America, where security would likely have stopped us at some distant gate, we walked into the production facility one Saturday night to find the place a beehive of activity: as one pickup load of olives was emptied another would pull up to unload.  The brain-rattling loud machinery didn’t make for conversation, but it did make for photo-taking.

It wasn’t until we were leaving that we met Takis.  I started to explain who we were and why we were there but he stopped me,

“But. . .of course, Giannis told me. You are the Americans. Come. Come with me where we can talk.”

(“But. . .of course. . .” is how so many sentences begin in Greece.)

A feast for the soul

He led us into a side room that served as a kitchen and break room with a small enclosed office in one corner. There he told us to sit and proceeded to pour us glasses of rose wine and cut thick slices of bread which he served smothered in olive oil . 

“This is old oil,” he said as he handed us the plate.“It is three days old.” He then zipped back to the press room, leaving us alone to savor the taste and moment. That thick emerald green liquid was simply an elixir for the soul. Absolutely unmatched by any oil we’ve ever tasted in Tuscany or Spain or France . . .

Bread smothered in extra virgin olive oil
We’d cleaned the plate and emptied our glasses by the time he returned. So the glasses were refilled and this time a large chunk of Feta cheese was put on the plate with two more slices of bread.  He took the plate into the press room, and returned with oil that was minutes old.

Minutes old olive oil
He then poured himeself a glass of wine, raised it toward us and said, “Welcome to my country! I hope you will be very happy here!”

“But. . .of course!” we thought, “We will be happy here. . .we already are!”
Note: Facts referenced with an asterik * in this post come from a report issued by the University of California’s Cooperative Extension Service in Sonoma County.  The map below shows the areas in Greece where olives are grown.  As always the time you’ve spent with us is appreciated.  Hope you’ll come back soon and until then Happy Travels.

(Crete – that large island at the bottom of the map – in the 1990’s was producing 30% of Greece’s olive oil, followed by the Peloponnese, the land mass that looks like an open hand, at 26%.*)

This week we are linking up with the fine bloggers at:
Travel Photo Thursday – Budget Traveler’s Sandbox 
Our World Tuesday
Travel Inspiration – Reflections En Route 
Mosaic Monday – Lavender Cottage Gardening

Thursday, December 29, 2011

TP Thursday: Osuna, Spain The Land of Olives

The air in Osuna, Spain was so thick with the scent of olive oil that we’d often pause stop during our walks through town to take deep breaths just to savor the invisible delicacy.


Osuna, the Andalucian town 90 minutes from Seville, is in the midst of The Land of Olives. Lucky for us that our November visit was during harvest.  (This tree at the Santa Teresa Company’s 1881 Olive Oil plant is more than 100 years old.)

Spain is the world’s leading olive oil producer with more than 300 million olive trees and groves that cover more than five million acres - 80% of the total crop is grown in Andalucia.


Trucks stacked high with branches laden with olives rumbled along the city’s narrow streets as they made their way to one of several olive oil processing plants.

DSCF1614In Osuna  more than 250,000 kilograms of olives are refined every day and 30 million liters of oil are bottled each year.

There were simply enormous amounts of  olive oil. . .as evidenced by these storage tanks  and the tanker trucks at Coreysa’s olive oil plant an easy walk from our hotel. 


Coreysa was founded in 1917 by Daniel Espuny Aleixendri, whose  family in the 14th Century owned oil mills in Northern Spain’s Catalonia region.  He worked his way to Osuna and started what today continues to be a family operation, today it is run by his grandchildren and their children.
Across town at another processing plant, the entry gate displays the generations who’ve carried on the family’s oil production since it was begun by Daniel Espuny Aleixendri.

We often buy a couple of bottles of wine to bring back from our travels but this trip the wine was left behind to make room in the suitcases for the olive oil.

DSCF1690 These bottles now have a place of honor on our kitchen counter. Not only is the oil superb for eating, but its taste – and smell – are great reminders of our short stay in The Land of Olives. 

For those of you cooks out there: the larger 500ml bottle cost a bit over $4US in Osuna (back home at our neighborhood grocery similar Spanish oil sells for $28). The smaller bottle was a gift from the fellows  I wrote about in an earlier post who introduced us to gourmet tapas.

Note: Today is Travel Photo Thursday so head to Budget Traveler’s Sandbox for more photos from bloggers around the world.


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