Tag Archives: Fall Harvest in Cortona

Olive Harvest in Cortona

14 Oct

Olive harvesting for many in Italy is a family affair. Italian families love their gardens and harvest their olives, like their fruits and vegetables, for their own consumption. Their olives are usually harvested by hand, producing a better quality oil.

Ancient olive trees are among the heartiest of trees – they grow well in most soils and some have born fruit for centuries. The trees even retain their green leaves year round.

Although I have walked by them for years, yesterday I finally came face to face with the first trees I would pick.

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Our friends Massimo and Daniela, and their sons Niccolo and Edoardo, have about 14 trees that were ready for harvesting. With only a handful of pickers, this was a two-day project. Len picked both days,

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As did new friends Sandy and Rudy.

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Picking olives is not difficult but it is time-consuming and at times back aching. Sometimes pickers are on ladders or up in the trees, carefully stripping the olives from upper branches,

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while other times they stand below, working branches at arms reach.

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We placed long orange nets around each tree to collect the falling olives, being very careful not to step on them.

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Sometimes, it seemed as though it was raining olives. A long plastic rake, called a pettina or manina, is used to reach tall parts or dense areas in the center of the tree. The tools are used to gently rake the olives off each branch, and as they fall to the net below, there is the sensation of raining olives. Here Rudy is demonstrating the technique.

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A few olives have a less direct path and may tap you on the head or shoulder on their way down, or even land in your shirt or pocket. I found a few after we got home.

When a tree was empty, the olives would be gently rolled up in the net and then placed in a bin.

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And off we’d go, moving the nets to the next tree. Usually 2-3 would work a tree together.

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Weather is important because if it rains, the olives can rot before they are pressed. We were fortunate. Although the skies threatened, the rain held off and gave us the time we needed to finish picking.

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Although some leaves naturally fall with the olives, seasoned olive pickers can pick olives with fewer leaves. We were all pretty careful, and tried to clean as we went along. I’m told a few leaves are fine as they impart a good taste.

Although some leaves naturally fall with the olives, seasoned olive pickers can pick olives with fewer leaves. We were all pretty careful, and cleaned as we went along. I'm told a few leaves are fine as they impart a good taste. Here I am removing any stray leaves, and here is a penny tiny snail that was clinging to one of the leaves. Picked olives range in size and color; they can be green, purple, yellow or black, and they differ from tree to tree.

Picked olives range in size and color; they can be green, purple, yellow or black, and they differ from tree to tree.

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Naturally, no matter what they are doing, Italians always take time for pranzo, or lunch. I missed the incredible lunch served in the garden on Monday, but yesterday, Massimo served us a delicious lunch at Tuscher Caffe.

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And here are some of the workers enjoying lunch:

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After lunch, Len and I returned with Daniela and Nicco for what we thought was one small last tree. However, there was still work to be done, as all the olives needed to be ready the next morning to take to the frantoia for pressing.

Working in the garage, we sorted and sorted and filled four large containers.

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Until all the leaves were gone…

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So this is what I’ve learned:

Harvesting is more than picking olives. It is a gathering of family and friends, new and old, working together, surrounded by nature’s beauty. It is a time filled with friendship, smiles, stories, and the joy of being in touch with nature. It is a tradition, passed on from generations, and thriving for future ones. And lucky for me, unlike grapes, bees don’t hang out around olives.

During lunch, and after the day was done, looking around at our tired and achy group, I noticed one more thing – we shared the kind of glow that comes from pitching in together for a job well done.

Tomorrow we go to the frantoio to watch our picked and sorted olives become olive oil. And then we get to taste it. Stay tuned for Part 2!

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And many thanks to Daniela and Massimo for giving us this opportunity – such a great pleasure and learning experience. Count us in for next year!

Ciao,

Judy

 

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