Posts Tagged ‘olive harvest’

Keith is driving the white van loaded with red and yellow crates brimming with the last two days olive harvest.

We’re bunched in beside him–Meredith finishing off her oat flake breakfast as the sun begins to warm the hillside vines and olive groves.

It is 8.30 in the morning, at the start of a long day.

Through the windows of the van as it negotiates the holes in the unmade-up road–the central Tuscan hills come into historic perspective.

What’s that tower up there?

Tuscan hills with the tower in the dip between.

Dates back to 800AD.

The hills are smirking in the shade–they’ve been here a lot longer.

By nine we are at the Frantoio.

By 9:15am the olives have been emptied into the steel shute and are in the system, soon to come out as liquid gold–as we thought.

We wait in the sunny waiting room, reading.

After half-an-hour Keith comes in looking daggers.

There’s a fault in the heating mechanism–they don’t know how long it’ll take.

This is a problem for us–we have to be in Florence by lunchtime.

Meredith spotted a conference being held over the weekend at the New York University Florence campus analyzing the recent American elections.

(She spent six months at Stanford University’s campus in Florence in her student days–so this kind of event resonates.)

I’ll take you back home and check train times.

Keith, keeping his good temper but worried about his olive oil, ferries us back through the sunny hills.

Within an hour we are on a train to Florence.

Soon after we manage a quick lunch (research!) before heading to the event.

Polpo e piselli (octopus and peas)

The conference is being held at the magnificent Villa Pietra up in the hills north of Florence.

(Sir Harold Acton was born and lived there most of his life. It is now the NYU campus in Florence.)

Pollsters, pundits and campaign managers from both sides sit on panels and talk amicably about what happened on November 6th, why and how the parties will adjust to the result.

(One afternoon’s talking shop does for me and I’m able to watch the following morning from the comfort of the hotel room as it’s streamed live over the internet.

From the low drone of garroulous expertise a voice arises that I recognise! Delighted I turn up the volume to hear my wife making a succinct point to the room while the large panel of experts look on in wonder!)

Late afternoon, now, we make our way back into Florence and catch our first sight of the Duomo this trip.

It sits benign and vast in the centre of the city as the evening lights come on round it.

We check into our hotel down by the river and think about dinner!

La Sostanza is a short walk away and they have room at 7.30.

Tortino carciofi (artichoke omelette) and fagioli e olio (beans and oil) and a happy punter!

I discovered this modest restaurant by chance in 1977 and have been a regular ever since.

It serves simple fare at communal tables in an unassuming room.

The cooking is done on a wood fire in a kitchen the size of a postage stamp.

Same photos and paintings on the walls–and two of the waiters are sons of ones I met on my first visit!

We are weary, but happy to have heard from Keith that the machinery at the frantoio

was fixed quicker than expected and no harm done to the olives already being processed.

End of a day and a half and back to the hotel and a final photo op.

Closest I’ll get now! RIP Marilyn.

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Olive picking resumed yesterday, Wednesday, after rain stopped play for two days–(sounds like the English cricket season!)

We arrived here Sunday night after driving down the Ligurian coast in a storm.

A brief and beautiful pause in Santa Margherita Liguria, Sunday morning–

soon proved one of Mother Nature’s teases as the rain began in earnest again on the road to Florence.

Footage of flood devastation on the Tuscan coast reminded us of America’s East Coast troubles–still terrible for many.

Our friend, Keith, didn’t apologize for the uncharacteristic Tuscan gloom.

You brought the rain and wind with you–from home!

It’s true, it tagged onto our coattails in Provence and followed us all the way.

But today all that is forgotten as autumn returns to its golden glory.

Keith’s team of five work their tough eight hour day on the steep terraces–the clickity-clacking of the picking poles playing constantly in their ears as the pretty little olives, green and all shades of purple, rain down from the trees and onto the nets.

A tree yields a litre of oil, roughly–Keith says.

He has a thousand trees. It takes a couple of weeks to harvest his crop, depending on the weather.

Then our job begins.

Gently lifting up the nets after the trees have yielded up their treasures, we help guide the olives into piles.

We pull out any twigs and small branches that have fallen and gather the olives into the plastic paniers, ready to go to the frantoio to be processed  in the morning.

Alba–a willing helper.

They had four good days last week though the rain has lowered the percentage of oil in the olives, plumping them up with water.

It doesn’t affect the overall quality of the oil–just the yield.

The liquid gold seems even better than last year.

My hands I notice smell of sea water–that slightly salty tang.

Must ask the master about this.

Exhausted olive worker, is now retiring to the shower!

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Helen, our hostess here in the Tuscan hills, is an insoucient cook–(a quality I have yet to achieve).

Helen with paprika sauce

She will throw some of this and a little more of that into her tall saucepan and very quickly the aroma of lunch fills her kitchen.

Angelino, one of our host Keith’s expert olive picking team, brought up a very large cauliflower from his garden one morning last week and Helen made a sauce of olive oil, paprika and lemon juice to bathe it in before roasting it in a moderate oven for 40 odd minutes.

She served it with slices of pork fillet roasted with rosemary from her garden the night we arrived.

The cauliflower dish turned out to be one of those you find your fingers sneaking back to when the hostess isn’t looking. Ju-ust one more little piece…uum!

Helen says she’s happy for me to reproduce the recipe here.

1 cauliflower–stem removed and split into smallish florets

2 tablespoons of olive oil

1 teaspoon of paprika–(I’m going to try it with the sweet smoked Spanish stuff back at the ranch)

juice of a lemon plus a little extra water (I noticed Helen fill the squeezed lemon halves with water and squeeze them out again–getting the most out of a lemon!)

salt and pepper

oven at 170C/325F

  • In a large bowl whisk the oil, paprika and lemon juice together into a dark red viscous sauce.
  • Add the cauliflower to the bowl and turn them over and over in the sauce.
  • Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
  • Spread out the cauliflower in a shallow roasting tray.
  • Roast in the oven for about 40 minutes.
  • Don’t expect much left over!!

Meredith, not usually a fan, gave it the thumbs up as the best cauliflower dish she’d ever had.

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Up with the sun and walking in the brisk morning air the kilometre and a bit back to the turning off the road.

A steep initial rise way from the house has me puffing hard and thinking–“Well, OK–this is doing me good.”

I hear a bounding and a breathing behind me and imagine the wolves are coming for me or at least an energetic wild boar.

Then a white furry streak is leaping round me, nudging me “Buon Giorno!” in a most friendly fashion.

It’s Alba of course, our friends Keith and Helen’s Maremmano [Tuscan] sheep dog, ready to guide me to the road.

“Not far now, just round the bend you’ll see, I know it well….”

She hears a scrabbling in the fallen leaves (there  are boar tracks everywhere) and dives off the path, disappearing into the undergrowth and I lose her.

“Alba! Alba!” Oh no…! I’ve lost their dog–they’ll never forgive me!

Shows how much I know about dogs.

Back at the house, I’m doing my post-walk stretching on the terrace and as I bend there’s that black nose again–nudging me .

“Here I am!–thought I’d got lost?–silly!”

We arrived here in the Tuscan hills last night to help with the last couple of days of the olive harvest; our job–to sort the leaves and branches from the olives–as best we can.

The real work is done by Keith’s team of five–working an eight hour day.




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Bottled gold--aka--olive oil

Our friends Helen and Keith just left–heading back to the Tuscan hills where they make world class green-gold nectar from the olives on their farm.

They have a thousand trees high above the valley of the Arno, south east of Florence.

Last November we went to “help” with the harvest.

Our job was to sort the leaves and branches from the purple green fruit–

–while trying not to crush the newly fallen olives underfoot, and get in the way of the real workers.

These were five and it took them three weeks–(rain stopped play every other day when we were there, which

gave our backs a chance to recover.)

They brush the trees with long poles in downward strokes, teasing the olives onto the nets laid out below.

Fitted to the ends of the poles are what look like pairs of hands, which “clap” pneumatically.

“Well done, olives–but time to go to the press!”

Every two days Keith loads up the van and heads to the frantoio where the olives make the journey from fruit to oil.

Stone pressing is a thing of the past; now the olives are processed by centrifugation–a horrible word but a cleaner method that produces better quality oil.

The unromantic centrifuge

The liquid gold emerging.

A proud moment–for a beginner!

Proud parvenu!

Keith says he gets about a litre of oil per tree.

Last November’s harvest was his all-time second best–that pleased us!

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