Harvesting olives

Olive harvest 2009

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Friends help us set out the nets
We had decided to vary our strategy this year, so started picking earlier, hoping to finish by Christmas, and thus hopefully avoid our usual heavy loss of olives to the January winds. So, we aimed to start 1 December. What foul luck, though - this December was hugely hit by high winds - I counted 9 days of high winds in the first 15 days of December! (To those who have never participated in an olive harvest, high winds prevent the laying down of nets to catch the olives as they are shaken from the trees)

In the days with somewhat less wind, we got out picking, rain or shine (we drew the line at sleet, which cut one day short!). Some days, the weather was bitterly cold - I made good use of my fingerless gloves! The rewards were good, however, as the two of us picked about a ton of great-looking olives over 6 1/2 days.

A few days after we finished, we picked up our first press of Yunquera Gold olive oil, about 160 litres! Once again, we used the local traditional press, in which the olives are cold-pressed slowly between mats, using hydraulic force. Although this pressing method yields less oil than the newer hot water/centrifugal method, we believe it produces higher-quality, better-tasting olive oil. The oil has started to settle very quickly - even as we poured the oil from the carafes into the barrel, it was a lovely golden colour, with very little olive sediment.

Our second half of picking was a total disaster. When we were picking the first half, it seemed like we would easily have enough olives remaining for a second press - but alas, no. The very high winds the end of December took a heavy toll on the ripe olives, and most had fallen off the trees. The ground under the remaining trees was littered with tiny olive bodies...sniff !!!

We were devastated. So the second picking yielded only 120 K of olives, not nearly enough for a press. This time, for the first time, some friends helped us for both days, which eased the pain a bit (as did the boozy lunch on our last day of picking). Even their 15 year old granddaughter, Harriet, helped us one day - much to her disgust! Our friend Jenny was as upset about the lost olives as we were - she says that next time, wind or no wind she is coming out to collect the olives BEFORE they can be lost!

Ah, the heartbreak of the farmer...