19
Nov

sicily-picking olives 9 copy

I am just back from California where I was hoping to go to the olive harvest but I never got the time. A few weeks earlier I was in Lebanon and I had intended to do the same down south but I was there too early. Thank goodness I went to Sicily in between, and in time for the olive harvest at Mary Taylor Simeti‘s beautiful farm near Palermo, Bosco Falconeria. Believe it or not it was my first ever olive harvest despite having grown up in Lebanon and Syria, both lands of the olive. Mary reckoned that the reason must have been that I was at school during olive harvest. She may well be right — we only went to Rechmaya where my uncle had his olive groves in the summer.

sicily-olive picker with his rake copy

Anyhow, having never seen olives being picked, I always thought hand-picked meant picking olives by hand which can actually be the case, especially in places like Lebanon or the Palestinian territories, but it is not how the harvest is done on Mary’s farm, and I assume many other farms. The pickers have plastic rakes like the one held by the lovely old gentleman in the picture above with which they comb the branches to let the olives fall onto the nets laid under the trees. No olives that fall by themselves are used for extra virgin olive oil — in Lebanon and Syria, the fallen olives are used to make soap. For the best olive oil, the olives need to be unblemished.

picking olives 3

And here are the pickers in the tree, climbing high into it moving the ladders as soon as they finish one side so that they can reach everywhere.

sicily-picking olives-battery operated shaker copy

Once they have finished raking as many olives off the branches as they can reach, another picker comes along carrying a battery operated machine that has a funny vibrating end made of four longish flexible plastic rods which he sticks into the tree to shake the branches and loosen the olives that were not reached by hand.

sicily-picking up the net with the olives copy

Then the pickers gather the net with the picked olives and take it to the side to sort the branches out before dumping the olives into crates or plastic baskets ready to be taken to the press the following day. Tonino, Mary’s husband who supervises the pressing of the olives, never lets the picked olives sit longer than a day before taking them to the press. I will post about the pressing in the next few days. And of course, you will read about the olive oil throughout the year as I use it in my cooking — I get all my olive oil from Mary and it is the best!

sicily-olive harvest 4 copy


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