Olive picking

My father and I wanted to learn more about olive-picking. We decided to harvest the olives from the trees my grandfather planted 30 years ago in the small field behind his house in the village. My granfather was not a farmer; he was a superintendent in constructions. The family owned a small number of vine fields which were cared for by my grandmother while she was still healthy and the village was generally a wine-producing and apple-producing village.

Therefore, while my father knows a lot of things about constructions, some things about apples and a few things about wine-making, he knows very little about olives.What is more, my grandfather died before having the chance to witness the trees grow and bear fruit, and they have been left there to their own devices for all these years, feeding the blackbirds and the worms and growing old, grumpy and dishevelled. 

So last week, we set out to see what we could do. Old skool. We had no nets so we used sheets and old tents to catch the olives. We bought two plastic "combs" to make it easier to collect the olives and thick gloves so that our hands didn't get scratched.

We woke up at 6 to drive up to the village and prepare for the harvest. We collected our tools, cleaned the ground from pine cones and logs and spread out the sheets under the the olive trees.

This is how it looked in the beginning.

Slowly, we started identifying some of the problems- The olives hadn't ever been pruned so they were too thick for us to work through, the sheets caught olives as well as branches, leaves and other material that we had to separate the olives from, which was very time consuming, some of the olives were infested with little worms or had already matured and shrivelled up.

As time wore by, we subconsciously separated the tasks: My dad was on the ladder throwing the olives down from the tree and I was under the tree picking the decent-looking olives out and throwing them in a carton box.

As my father says, if you work with the trees, you develop a special relationship with them.

At two o'clock, after about 5 hours of non-stop work and chatter, we realised it was time to take a break for lunch.

I think every time my dad visits his village, he gets a bit nostalgic about the way of life he had when he was a kid, and the small things that made up those beautiful times. I might be wrong, but I think a humble meal of halloumi, tomatoes and arkatena - a traditional kind of hard bread made out of a particular kind of yeast mix- is one of the ways he immerses himself into the old feeling of 'home'.

In my mind, dipping my arkatena in a warm cup of Nescafe to soften it down to a delicious, chewable, semi-crunchy consistency marks memories of hanging out with my dad on the front porch of his crumbling natal house, looking out on the beautiful spreading branches of his auntie's giant oak and recounting stories of old.

After our meal, we fed the cats.

After a hard day's work, we had only harvested 2 trees. We had to return the next day to harvest the remaining two. Papas took the olives to the press yesterday. He came back with a tank merely two thirds full. Looking at this tank of oil, whose quality is questionable, I look at 2 days of sweat and muscle strains.

We have been using the oil in salads and to cook. It's not the greatest oil in the world, but at least we got to appreciate the effort that goes into producing it and can be smug about it to people who visit our house.


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