Olives just waiting to be picked

The olive harvest is an age-old ritual here in the Tuscan countryside. Every year around the second week of October, movement ascends on the silent olive groves and people can be seen tromping around with ladders, baskets and nets.

A traditional olive basket, woven by hand

For the past month and a half, we have been outside in the fields under incredibly pleasurable conditions (not the case every year), just a picking. As I mentioned on insta, it is only the two of us however guest helpers drop in every once in a while to chat. We started with assisting our Zio who although is the best picker I know, is just getting to the point where it is harder and harder for him to continue the work he loves so much. We moved on to 160 trees of our own and rounded out the season in the fields of our neighbors who could not make it back to Italy this year due to obvious reasons.

Olive nets laid out to catch the olives from two trees at one time

It is laborious work, you must lay out gigantic nets, sometimes heavy with dew, underneath individual trees to try to cover the most amount of ground to catch every single falling olive. We have a system, everyone’s is different, but we stick to the traditional way of harvesting, no machines, just two gloved hands and a whole lot of patience. Grab a limb and use your thumb and fingers to tease the olives off the branch, and yes, that means that we actually ‘pluck’ each olive from the tree. Basically one person picks from the ground and the other is on a ladder to reach the highest parts of the tree. You can guess which one of us does which job. 😉 Even though olive trees are typically pruned to a workable size, some are fast growers and can reach rather tall heights and that is when both of us are up the ladders and in the belly of the tree.

Picking by hand
Up on the ladder

Work starts in the morning, moving slow in the low fog, feet in wellington boots to stay dry and heads in warm wool hats. As the morning moves on the fog lifts, just in time for lunch. The tablecloth is laid in the grass, the basket contents are carefully unloaded and the ritual of slowing down just for a bit begins. Some days the meal is simple prosciutto, bread and olives, other days to cut the crisp air, it is eggs and sausages cooked on the small burner or even an open fire. Of course we always end with the necessities, a moka coffee and/or the essential pick me up of a pocket coffee or mon cheri chocolate. Having refueled as the sun brilliantly shines, jackets are removed and we work again until the light starts to fade over the hill and the chill signals the end of the day.

Picnic basket
Hot lunch

We need to accumulate at least 650 pounds of olives, 3 quintale, in order to secure our very own pressing and not mix our olives with others in the community, then it is time for a trip to the frantoio, olive oil mill. This year we clocked three visits to the mill.

Filling the crates to the top
Olives taking a bath
Electric green goodness

Like most places in Tuscany, even the mill has an incredible view. Funnily enough, this was my first view in Italy as we briefly lived next door to the mill when I moved here all those years ago.

View from the Frantoio, olive pressing mill.

In the past, I have always enjoyed olive season, up to a point. There have been situations where we have picked for months and never seemed to get anywhere. Blustery winds have threatened to take the nets away, fog has relentlessly settled in my bones and steep terraces on the hills have narrowly led to twisted ankles. However, this being my 15th year here and even during a pandemic, the stars aligned and the weather agreed, the company was fantastic, the picnics were perfect and the oil is some of the best yet, no other way to say it, I was just where I needed to be.

When travel starts again, if you find yourself in Tuscany in October or November, get in touch, we could always use an extra pair of hands!

December 4, 2020

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