Sergio and Milena’s olive trees . . .
In November, Italians harvest olives. Especially in Umbria, where the weather and terrain provide optimal conditions, olives grow everywhere. Our friends Milena and Sergio live on a hillside overlooking Perugia. They cultivate more than 100 tress. Their grove produces enough oil to last their family for a year. On Sunday, with our friend Rose and several of their friends, we arrived to pick the last of the crop and then join them for dinner.
I knew nothing about harvesting olives before this day. But by the end of the afternoon, it seemed pretty simple. We began by spreading a large net around the trunk which then extended beneath the widest branches. Then we surrounded the tree and picked the olives, dropping them onto the net. The men would take turns shaking the olives off the top with a heavy rake that vibrated with enough strength to knock them off the limbs. After the olives were collected, we’d transfer them to crates.
We finished with the last tree just before dark. After boxing up the olives and supplies, we came inside and prepared dinner. We started with chestnuts and red wine. Soon, more people showed up. By 8:30, we sat down to eat. The traditional first course for a harvest dinner is grilled bread rubbed with garlic and soaked in oil. The previous day’s olives were cold-pressed for tonight’s dinner. The oil was dark green, cloudy, spicy, and delicious. Next we had huge plates of spaghetti, roasted pork, potatoes, two different kinds of salad, another chestnut course, three types of dessert and espresso. The most entertaining part of dinner was a language competition between Matt and Giovanni: Matt with Italian nouns vs. Giovanni’s English nouns. It was close. I think both men walked away feeling victorious.
The kids had their own dinner in the other room. They took breaks between courses to listen to music and dance. The Italian kids introduced Tom and Ray to “Gangnam Style.” Rose gave them a more formal lesson the next morning. (I had no idea about the dance revolution taking over the world.) By midnight we started cleaning up and then went home. One of the guests asked how this evening’s dinner would compare to an Italian restaurant back home. We assured them it could compete with the very best.