Olive Harvest

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.

Matt uses the electric machine to get the fruit off the top of the tree while Giovanni works on the olives below

Rose makes a second round to find any last olives

These are “moraiolo” olives that need to be picked by hand since they cling firmly to their branches

Taking a break for a picnic lunch

Matt moves the supplies to another group of trees.

Olives will generate 10% of their weight into oil

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.

roasting chestnuts

making bruschetta with “olio nuovo”

The end of the night: grappa, amara, and banana liqueur are served while we talked about our favorite Italian foods.

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.


12 thoughts on “Olive Harvest

  1. What an amazing experience! So exciting to be a part of Sergio and Milenia’s olive harvest and festivities. I would love to eat with a real Italian family! Gangam style is fun! kind of the new macarina.

  2. WOW!! One of your best posts. We have talked about putting in olive trees in the acre I cleared behind the shop. Have to talk to you about it when we see ya. Rose must have had a ball not to mention all your family. Harvest dinner is always so fun and good. We have not done one in two years. Will get back into it when you come down to harvest hazelnuts next Oct. Italian dinner that you and Mom could prepare. love, Grandpa John

  3. Love love love!!! How fun!!!! Had no idea that cold press olive oil was able to be made overnight!!! Can’t wait for the cooking lessons when you get home! xoxo
    That’s hysterical about “Gangam” style…I’m ready to poke my eyes out with a hot dull fork as much as we here it!!!

  4. Oh, how FUN! Olive trees are so romantic – old and twisted and wise. Matt looks like a natural with the electric rake :). We used to buy plastic coke bottles full of olive oil on the side of the road in Albania – nothing compares! I am so envious of your experiences there, but am so thankful that you are a faithful blogger. I find myself checking your site daily to see if there is a new post. I think of you all daily – hope the boys are doing well. Think of me when you eat all that wonderful food and EAT FOR TWO!!! 🙂 Love you all…

  5. They say a picture is worth 1000 words, but your words paint beautiful pictures, Jill. After reading I go back and look at the pictures, compare them to the pictures you’ve drawn in my head, and smile at the smiles on all of your faces. What an amazing adventure you are having. Thank you so much for bringing us all along.

  6. How ‘down to earth’ with such an experience! I have read about the pinzimonio table in David Rocco’s Italian cookbook. That gorgeous new oil is mouth watering. I love the thought that, while we are harvesting hazelnuts, you are harvesting olives. “Hold onto what is good, even if it is a handful of earth.” I love you.

  7. When I was in elementary school (many years ago) we sang a Christmas Carol called “Wind through the Olive Trees”. Now I have a picture to go with the song.

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