February 1, 2021 by D.Fathia
Olive harvest: a season for joy
Enjoying the taste of olive oil and cherishing its health benefits is one level of happiness, yet enjoying the olive harvest season is totally another higher level of happiness.
Have you been wondering about the process of obtaining olive oil? Have you ever looked at an olive oil bottle and contemplated on how did you get that golden liquid? If you have, then you will definitely like our story.
In the next few lines, I will take you on a journey to the furthest olive orchards to witness the ancient ceremony of harvesting olives.
How to harvest olives?
I grew up in the south region of Tunisia, in a family that pays great respect to olive trees. For hundreds of kilometers, wherever you cast your eyes you will see gigantic olive trees scattered on hills and in valleys.
The harvesting season signals the beginning of a ceremony that will last for weeks if not months. All family members take part in the celebration one way or another. You could sense euphoria in the air as soon as you set foot in the lands of olives.
The operation is in fact simple. We race the sun to the open fields and we start the day as early as we can. The olive harvest is done manually, that’s why the more hands around the tree the better the process goes and the sooner we finish.
The young climb the lofty trees; while the elders stay on the ground and pick the fruits nearest to them. We gather all the black and green fruits and transport them to an already prepared place for further processing.
The handpicking process might seem tiring, it is actually, but we barely feel exhausted for the time goes by quickly in laughter and jokes.
The olive harvest is quite similar to the modern camping idea. How so? Well, we spend the whole day outside in nature, we eat outside, and those who own lands far from their home would sleep outside in tents too.
We cook our meals in the camping or harvesting area. We make fire and we prepare our lunches on the fast-burning flames. We even make our coffees on the same fire and tea too, for the harvest is never complete without continuous cups of tea. As Phyllis Logan once said: “there is nothing quite like a brewed pot of tea to get you going in the morning.”
The harvesting season has its rituals, which are followed by all people unquestionably. The boiling pot of tea, the tasty big size food dishes, the playing children, and the singing women are common practices during all harvesting days.
The olive harvest is not just an agricultural activity; it is rather a show of gratitude to Mother Nature, an opportunity for family members to come together, and a chance of pure authentic happiness and serenity.
The journey of olive from the trees to the bottle
Once all the trees are checked and all the fruits are gathered in one place, another step in the olive harvest starts. We handpick the good fully ripen black and semi ripen green fruits. The aim is to clean the fruits from the leaves which had fallen during the harvest.
Also, we make sure to clean the crop from any external remnants, either of dead insects or parasites. This is highly important to guarantee the purity of the oil to be obtained.
One more step is to wash the crop. The washing process cleanses the crop from attached micro-elements and dust. Now the harvest is ready to be transported to the best oil mill in town.
The traditional machines to ground olive are no more than millstones run by animals such as camels or horses. The huge millstones keep grounding olive until it is made into a paste. Later, the paste is put in big bags made of straw that are to be placed one on top of the other. Stones are placed on the very top so that to exert pressure on the paste to yield liquid.
The resulting liquid is left for a while until olive oil separates from water. The harvest season is now over and the golden liquid is the ultimate reward for the tiresome efforts of months.
When to harvest olives?
Olives are harvested when fully ripen; this can be detected by the eye. A fully ripen olive fruit turns black and no longer maintains a hard texture. A few fruits might ripen very late; however, when choosing the time for the harvest most of the fruits must be black.
Our elders do not usually ask about when to harvest olives; they simply know by instinct and accumulated wisdom. They know when the fruits are fully ripened and when the oil has reached its maximum level.
Generally, the olive harvest starts in November and lasts as long as March. Of course, geographical and climatic conditions govern the harvesting time as different factors affect the crop.
It is usually said that the best olive oil is that coming from an early harvest.