OLIVE PICKING IN CENTRAL PORTUGAL

I am very relieved to have finished picking our olive crop this year.  Much as I enjoyed picking them in the sunshine in the company of my good friends, it is incredibly time consuming work and seriously exhausting too. In my little village here in Central Portugal and all of the surrounding towns and villages, there is a hive of olive picking activity going on, with everyone pulling together to get their crop ready for pressing. Some of the people waving down at me from their trees as I go by look far too old to be that high up, but they are experts and make it look a whole lot easier than I do. I am not the world’s best tree climber by a long shot and I am really not a fan of heights either…

Just to give you an idea, it takes around 5 hours for 3 people to retrieve the olives from 2 large trees. We have worked our way through around 30 decent sized trees this year and I deliberately lost track of the hours and days as I would honestly prefer not to know! I love having my own olive oil and I wouldn’t dream of letting the fruit go to waste, so it is simply one of those jobs that must be done.

This is the third crop we have picked now and we definitely have it a lot more sussed than the first time round. In fact I am blushing just thinking about that….

Moving swiftly on, a purpose made net is placed around the base of the tree to collect the olives and the first job is to climb the ladder, with a saw and cutters and remove any branches you want to prune, letting them fall onto the mat. Our method is to begin picking the fruit, using olive rakes on poles, or by climbing the tree and ‘milking’ the olives from the branches by hand. My neighbours seem to have a knack of smacking the trees with sticks to harvest their olives but I can’t say this method works for me! Start by picking the highest olives and you will knock plenty of the lower ones down in the process.

Once picked the olives must be separated from the leaves. This is vital, as we learned the hard way on year one. If you bag up the olives without removing them, the leaves heat up the contents of the bag and your olives will begin to deteriorate at an alarming rate. Don’t even think about doing this sorting by hand as you will lose the will to live. Take my word for it; a neighbour with an olive cleaning machine to separate the olives from the rubbish will give you your life back.

Although tiring, there is something very special about taking part in this traditional Mediterranean family activity. This ancient tradition is a major feature of the sociocultural life and heritage in many Mediterranean regions and I feel very blessed to be able to experience it.

To be outside in a vest in November feeling the sun’s rays on my skin, enjoying the mountain views and the rainbow of vibrant colours across the sky as the sun sets, is quite therapeutic and I genuinely feel very lucky indeed.

So for this year, the hard part is done. I have 11 sacks and 2 barrels of wonderful olives, ready to take to the mill to be pressed. Another few kilos have been separated and left in brine for eating.

We have a good ratio of black versus green olives this year which is important; the green olives add a peppery flavour to the oil whilst the black olives yield a higher quantity of oil. The aim is a ratio of 3 black to 1 green. I am hoping to beat my previous weight of 418 kilos, but as long as I have a  minimum of 300 kilos – (enough to have my olives pressed individually and have my own oil), I will be very happy.

Our last press of 418 kilo’s gave us 62 litres of olive oil. (6.74 kilos of olives for each litre of oil).

No chemicals, no rubbish. This olive oil is just 100% pure liquid gold.

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