A Tale of Two Harvests

I’m writing this as I grab a quick break from olive harvesting. I’m sitting on a rather uncomfortable, rickety wooden chair in the corner of the frantoio, (the olive mill), as I wait for the 220 kgs of olives that we have picked in the last 24 hours to be turned into delicious, wonderful, green gold: the extra special version of extra virgin olive oil that is known as olio nuovo.

As I sit here, I’m reflecting on the journey that has brought me to this rickety chair.

What an adventure we have had!

We found our little slice of paradise in the summer of 2017, and immediately fell in love with it. We dreamt of owning it by the olive harvest of that year.

But, if you’ve read our early blog posts, you’ll know that it took us rather longer than we had anticipated to buy it.

And so, late in the spring of 2018, we became the proud owners of a 1970s villa, and 8.5 adjoining hectares of abandoned olive farm, sloping gently down the hillside from the house. In Sabina. Hence the name, Olive Hill Sabina.

Our 2018 “harvest”

We worked and worked and worked, and by the autumn of 2018, we had enough olives to harvest … around 1kg of manky, fly bitten round things that went straight into the compost bin.

Twenty nineteen, and we started to renovate the house. Throughout the spring and the summer, many friends came to visit us, and to share some time living on a building site with us. By the time autumn arrived, we were living in an upstairs “apartment” with no heating, leaky windows and ceilings, and over the top of a ground floor that was totally open to the elements. When it rained, we even had a downstairs swimming pool at times!

Up a tree in 2019

Strangely, by now, we had no visitors. So one Friday morning, we set off with our rakes and our nets to pick 150kg of olives, the minimum required to be milled as a single estate batch.

We raked and raked and raked our first row of trees, until it was too dark to see the olives. We phoned the mill and cancelled our 9am booking, moving it to the last available slot, at midday. Out again at the crack of dawn, we raked and raked and picked and picked, and got to the mill with our haul at 11.59, with a minute to spare.

And still we didn’t have 150kg of olives.

Giorgio at the mill, God bless him, took pity on us, in so far as he gave us another 3 hours in which to come up with the required 150kg. And so we went home, scraped together another couple of baskets of olives, and then stumbled back to the mill. We were exhausted, and I was a little tearful, and Giorgio very kindly milled the 130kg of olives that had taken us two days to pick. That evening, we had been invited to a friend’s house for supper, and so we took along some of our precious first batch of olio nuovo with us, and watched in horror as it got tipped all over the table cloth!

Last year, it took us ten days to get all of our olives harvested, and we made just over 100 litres of beautiful extra virgin olive oil. The taste was to die for. We were exhausted, but we were proud, and all the effort was worth it.

And so to 2020. The covid year. The house is finished, we spent lock down pruning and pruning, and despite the hot, dry summer, we have over twice as many trees with olives as last year. And what a lot of olives they’ve got!

We’re on the afternoon of day six of the raccolta (harvest), and we’re averaging around 200kg of picked olives per day. We’ve already made more oil than we managed last year, and we’ve only harvested around a quarter of the trees! Some days, we’ve had so many olives to take to the mill, that even the little Smart Car gets pressed into service – and yes, that is indeed a yoga mat tucked under the olives!

Sitting here on this rickety chair is astounding, and also rather routine all at the same time.

The mill is so familiar now, but also a part of such a strange new world. I can’t quite believe that this chair forms a part of my life now. That I know how to prune olive trees. That I know how to care for them, and prepare them for harvest. That we can harvest buckets and buckets full of olives day after day, and bring them to an olive mill, and watch them as they’re weighed, washed, mashed, centrifuged, and then poured into our fusto (a 50 litre stainless steel olive oil container), is quite frankly, mind blowing.

But.

And I think that this is the point of why I’m writing this post right now.

As mid life crises go, this is quite a big one. But it is totally, absolutely wonderful. Our son was with us in the lead up to harvest, but had to return to the real world back in the UK just before harvest season started, as covid restrictions tightened, and it became clear that he might get stuck here. And so we’ve had have a merry band of friends who either live locally, or find themselves stuck here for one reason or another, helping us out in our hours of need. It’s all rather odd, as we socially distance, and wear masks, and only eat out of doors, but it’s great fun nonetheless.

And so, slowly, slowly, we are getting our huge crop of olives harvested. And by hook or by crook, and with a lot of help from our friends, we’ll be able to enjoy several hundred litres of extra virgin olive oil from Sabina over the next year.

Made with friends of the highest quality.

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