Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Olive harvest

The olives are ready. At least, the first batch. La Bastiole sits in the middle of 35 oliviers, and above us, on Jules, our propriétaire's land, are at least that many more. Last year I harvested 27 kilos of olives, working with some help from the girls and some from Luigi but mostly on my own. This year, C has taken the lead. I was still recovering from the five batches of apricot jam, 4 batches of plum butter, and 3 batches of fig preserves that I made over the summer--not to mention the vegetable garden, which was more or less a bust. So the idea of working with the olives (emphasis there on working) had lost some of its romance for me.

Enter C. Our Swedish neighbors up the hill told him that they had harvested I don't know how many hundreds of kilos of olives from their trees, and had more than 50 liters of oil to show for it. I could see his mind start to work. Then Violette's husband told him how many hundreds of kilos he and Violette expected from their 85 trees, and, furthermore, that the real secret to increasing the take was to pick up the olives that had fallen from the tree, he had gotten several dozen kilos just like that.

You mean, Maurice crawled around on the ground picking up olives out of the grass? I said, incredulously.

He got 25 kilos just like that! C was excited: no ladders, no poles, no nets, just picking up olives off the ground.

I pointed to the ground under the trees. There they are, sweetheart. Go for it.

What he did instead was go up to Jules' garage and bring down a dozen or so large green nets to spread under the trees. We brought out the ladder and the bamboo poles. I put nets down around a tree and walked around it, tapping the branches with the former tomato stake, knocking the olives onto the net. C took a bucket and sat under another tree, picking up windfall olives.

We spent a day thus--C eventually gave up on the windfall and went up the ladder himself, and I took a bucket and went round a picked what I could reach from the ground. We're both still fascinated by the idea that food is just lying around, waiting to be picked, whether it's wild thyme in the mountains, blackberries, figs, grapes, rosemary, all of it just growing, sustenance waiting to be picked. Olives, however, are small. Our 27 kilos last year got us 5 liters of oil; 27 kilos of apricots would make enough jam for a village for a year. Our 5 liters I have measured out in coffee spoons, using it sparingly, offering it only to people I knew would appreciate it.

So this year maybe we'll have more than 27 kilos. I think we may already have almost that much, spread out on burlap in the basement. This weekend we'll harvest more, and the weekend after that we'll finish. Maybe this year we'll have more than 5 liters of oil, and I'll be able to measure it less carefully and maybe even share it with people who don't know what a treasure it is.

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