It’s not every day that you get undressed and find olives pinging out of your netherwear and rolling across the bedroom floor. I am not a messy eater and I do not like olives, so it probably is not what you think!
This year we had our first olive harvest at Cortijo Limonero. It was a really enjoyable experience for us.
The olive tree on the corner of the terrace was covered in fruit by October, but it was all green, so we bit our nails and waited for developments. It had very few olives on it last year, so we had not realised how messy windfalls are, especially when trampled by the dog contingent and rolled over with a wheelbarrow. I would not have pressure washed the terrace in September if I had!
We figured that when this tree’s fruit was ready, we would know it was time to take a good look at the trees further away. The neighbours did not seem to be in any hurry to get started on their trees, so we watched and waited.
When I could take no more of the mess of squashed windfalls from the olive tree on the corner of the terrace, I wandered down to the olive grove to see how far off ready the olives down there were.
I had pruned the first terrace of olive trees last spring and been congratulated by one of the local old boys for doing a good job. He was quick to tell me not to take any more off them, so I did wonder if I had been a little too drastic. I need not have worried.
For some reason, although they are probably only a couple of hundred yards away, the fruit was large, glossy and black on quite a few of the trees. We decided to crack on with harvesting. The green ones from the tree near the house could be mixed in with the black ones – they just would not produce as much oil when pressed.
As regular readers of El Perro will know, I loved picking blackberries when I was young. Picking olives is even better! Olive trees do not have thorns, the fruit are not sweet, so the flies leave you alone and there is no temptation to eat as you pick, so you do not ingest maggots. Possibly best of all is the fact that you do not end up with purple stained hands.
We bought an olive net last year, knowing it would be needed once we had some olives to pick. Once the net is spread beneath the tree you are picking from, you can allow the olives to fall and then decant the whole lot into a crate when there are enough. They roll and bounce all over the place, so a nice large net is an essential piece of kit.
We had heard of olive rakes, but never seen one, so we thrashed about with the grass rake and the garden rake we do have and made our Spanish neighbour hoot with laughter. It was a totally useless way of carrying on, so we soon abandoned it for picking by hand. What a joy! Imagine a cross between running your fingers through a loved one’s hair, milking a smallish mammal and shelling peas. It is like that but better.
We spent six days, working from sun up to sun down, chatting companionably and enjoying the peace and tranquility among the olive trees. Birdsong, the gentle smell of the olive trees, happy dogs and contented humans – bliss! While heavily laden orange trees have an exuberant, Christmas tree, citrus-scented gorgeousness, the gentle grey-green foliage and purply-black fruit of the olive trees has a soft, subtle beauty. I fell a little bit in love with olive trees, having not really noticed their self-effacing loveliness before,
Some of the trees that had not been pruned were too tall for us to reach the top branches, so we developed a prune and then pluck technique which netted us large quantities of fruit we would have otherwise missed. We were interested to notice that some of the trees had purplish fruits with a pale bloom on them, while others had glossy black ones. Some of the olives were the size of a small cherry, while others were more like decent-sized damsons. Not all of the trees were fruiting well, some hardly at all. We could discern no obvious rhyme or reason to the variations, but a quick online search suggested trees, like humans, have off days (or years.)
Once the net was full, we would empty the olives from it into one of the motley collection of crates we had gathered for the purpose, picking out the worst of the twigs and leaves. At the end of the day, we gathered up the crates, the net, our discarded jumpers and gloves and wheelbarrowed them back to the house, ready for the trip to the almazara up the road to be pressed.
More of that to follow…