What a glorious experience from start to finish!
When I’d taken a closer look at our trees back in late summer, I knew this year’s olive harvest would mean a bumper crop. Mind you, this is after at least four rather unproductive years. In two previous years, high winds blew blossoms off the trees at a crucial juncture in pollination. Another year was so dry the trees produced a sparse crop. And, another year, which had looked promising, fell prey to a pesky fly that invaded and destroyed much of the fruit (that year my olive harvest was tiny—just enough to cure one large jar of olives).
So, imagine my delight anticipating a bountiful olive harvest. My dear friend, David Spagnolo, an incredibly gifted photographer in fashion, beauty, and sports, quickly accepted my invitation to come to Umbria to harvest olives with me. He arrived in early November and we plotted our strategy for tackling the trees and dealing with sketchy weather. We dedicated ourselves to at least three days of the olive harvest, working side-by-side at a steady but unhurried pace. After all, this was also a golden opportunity to get caught up (we hadn’t seen each other in years) and muse about life. And, when we crossed the finish line of harvesting olives, we’d had an experience that fired on all cylinders.
Dodging the rain.
This was the only difficult part of the process. You’re inviting trouble if you harvest when the trees, olives and ground are wet. They all need to be reasonably dry so as to not invite mold, mildew, and rot. And, especially since we knew our lot would be small and set aside for adding to a later pressing of additional smaller lots, this is something we couldn’t risk. So, we patiently waited for windows of opportunity when the rain had abated for at least several hours. We were “on it” as soon as conditions presented themselves, but several times we had to retreat indoors and wait yet again. Our three days of the olive harvest were dotted with such pauses, though the last day was pretty much sunny all day.
An olive harvesting strategy.
A plan of attack is crucial when tackling olive trees. First, we pulled the olive crates and nets out of the basement and gave them a good cleaning. Then we surveyed my twenty-one trees to determine 1) Which had the most fruit. 2) Which were most easily accessible. We determined the trees that would be a waste of time and which would invite injury.
We started with our next door neighbor’s’ tree. They’d invited me to harvest their olives since they had already relocated to Rome for the colder weather months. This tree was on level ground, had been nicely pruned, was easily accessible. So, we broke ourselves in with the easiest of all trees. Then we methodically worked our way through fourteen of twenty-one trees. There was so much fruit on the trees that stripping the trees of their fruit by hand was a bit more time intensive.
The following video chronicles the entirety of our olive harvest experience:
Knowing when to call it quits.
We could’ve kept at it another day or two but by 1 pm. on day three we had filled our four crates and we knew we’d have ample olive oil as a result. This was quality fruit! So, we folded up the net, packed the car, and headed over the opposing mountain range to take the road over to then Cortona frantoio—about a forty-five-minute drives, which was only broken by an hour’s stop (around 3 p.m.) at an amazing roadside bar/cafe/osteria for a spectacular plate of cured meats and artisanal cheeses and a couple self-congratulatory glasses of Prosecco.
Yes, the moment of truth had arrived. We hauled our crates in from the car to the large scale in the frantoio. One-hundred kilos of olives on the nose. That’s 220 pounds of olives. The olives were added to a batch of other small lots and our crates were returned to us. I was given a receipt that showed the weight minus a five percent reduction for debris like leaves and twigs. You see, most of the olives that arrive at the communal press have been harvested mechanically and such lots end up with more debris due to the lack of dexterity of the mechanical hands. People like me who deliver rather pristine olives are penalized because of this. Oh well.
I returned to the frantoio three weeks later because I had to go back to Treviso in the meantime. When I returned in December, the mechanical olive press, which had been running 24/7 just weeks before, was silent. The olive harvest window had closed. I handed in my receipt and my extra virgin olive oil, the last of the small lot pressing, was poured and drained from the designated stainless-steel drum. My yield was a healthy almost-twelve liters. I couldn’t wait to get home to pour a small tumbler of this golden elixir, add a touch of salt, and taste it.
Boy, did this stuff knock my socks off! I did a happy dance all alone in the kitchen of our Umbria home knowing we’d be well set for over a year with this delicious liquid.
The memories linger.
Every time I will pour this olive oil I will remember, with great fondness, three amazing days of hard work, camaraderie and the kind of rich, soulful conversations that come with deep friendships.
Congratulations getting your own olives harvested! Am happy to see your video. Jed, I have some olive trees in my village, I had to leave to stay with family Florence, but next year, want to try. Jed, how many trees does it take to get four crates of olives? Our trees were loaded, but not able to harvest this year????. Consider my trees to be little smaller than average. The press factory is about twenty minutes from my house. Next year will do it! Thanks for the input. Suzy Olsen
Thanks, Suzy. For us it was about 12-14 trees in varying degrees of “abundance.” Even for small yields I heartedly recommend it!
Thank you so much for bringing me right back to our olive picking adventures in Umbria! We worked in our landlord’s grove for 8 hours in October…also helped two friends in their two separate groves. The work is hard, but so worth the reward of beautiful, tasty Umbrian oil.
We can’t wait to get back to our little piece of heaven in March. Three liters of ‘ liquid green gold’ await our return! Your wonderful story made being here at work so much more tolerable….Grazie mille!
Ciao, Janelle! Yes, the fruits of olive harvesting labor are hard to beat. I’m making a habit of sipping our oil and experiencing its full-throated spiciness!
Jed. Love everything you do, albeit with a certain level of pure envy. Watching this video literally makes my heart race, imagining that in about four years I could have the same experiences to share with friends as I retire to Calabria with its slightly spicier olive varietals. We look forward to hearing/seeing your next Umbrian adventure (my wife and I fondly recall our first Italy trip together in 1995 sharing a farmhouse outside of Spoletto with our close sailing friends). Ciao and Buono Fortuna.
Thanks for writing, Filippo. I’m slow in responding because I’ve been doing some major travel. It means the world to mean that you enjoy my stories and videos. I’m simply sharing big Italian adventure and transformation! Yes, you have much to look forward to with your own olive harvests!
Something else to add to the Bucket List!!!
You betcha! It is SO gratifying! Thanks, Rich.
Hi Jeb, I loved your olive oil article. Robin and Markus also had an excellent crop. My friend just gave me a pint of olive oil from Argentina, bright green and the aroma is out of this world, fresh squeezed! Anyway what I am writing about is flying my 14 year old dog, a Doxie about 20lbs, to many snacks.. What is the best way to do it? I am worried that it is to long of a flight. From CA to Umbria! I wish there was a plane just for animal owners. Thanks Tia
Hi Tia! I’m glad you enjoyed the olive oil story. I had such a great time doing it.
So, flying a 14 year-old baby to Italy. I don’t know which airlines get the bet rating for care in the hold, which seems to be the the standard these days for any pets above 12 lbs. I have friends who came over on the Queen Mary as they board the animals and guests are allowed to visit their animal children during the voyage. Much less stressful for the animals. With Brexit coming, I don’t know if the receiving process will become more arduous since the UK already has different guarantee or documentation guidelines. Yes, an airline just for animal owners would be awesome.
Wonderful video. So nice to see you and your life in Italy!
Grazie! I’m so glad you like it and me working my way into the culture.
Amazing Jed. Great story.
We are over in Panicale and had the pleasure of picking olives for the first time in early November..and you are so right. The rain came in fits and starts and extended the picking. Our small lot was put in with others and it truly was exciting to so the green oil drip from the spigot!
We’ll be back in March to prune and hope for another fun harvest in the fall! Grazie per la Astoria!
Hi Wendy! You remind me that I need to mark my calendar for pruning and cleaning my grove and put myself in good stead for the next harvest.
Thoroughly enjoyed watching this video. I was in Tuscany and Umbria several years ago and we participated in an olive harvest. It was fascinating. We were able to watch the oil being squeezed. What a treat of memories this chided brought back to me. Thanks for sharing, Jed!
I’m so happy this brought back such fond memories, Nancy. It’s such a gratifying process.
Thank you so much for sharing this experience. What a wonderful video. You inspired us to try to get a property with mature olive trees!
Excellent! You won’t regret it. I know people who’ve bought property and planted trees and had to wait several years before any “action” happened on their trees. In March I plan to get out with my pruning shears to really attend to the trees in a way that is well overdue!
Love this! Fun, interesting, informative. Thanks for sharing.
Thanks, Gloria! I love doing this and it means the world to me when my projects resonate with people! More coming….
Lovely story. I do enjoy your storytelling and video/phots. I will be in Sulmona and overlap with you. I leave on the 29th of September, perhaps we can meet at Casa del Cuore.
Grazie, Eloise. I love storytelling of all sorts. I hope it comes through. I’m still getting used to being in front of the camera and slowing working away at my inhibitions! Yes, let’s rendezvous at Casa del Cuore in September!
This video is such a joy and provided a lovely chance to escape a cloudy winter day in South Carolina! I was lucky enough to be given a bottle of your olive oil when you first harvested your olives when you bought your house in Umbria and remember how delicious it was!
Ciao, Kathryn! I’m glad I was able to reach across the Atlantic and into your home with this wonderful experience. Maybe you and Leo will have to come for one of the harvests! What fun we’d have. Or, you could sit with a glass of wine and watch Leo and me at work!
Wow Jed! Beautiful! Thanks for making and sharing this video!
Thanks, Joe! I hope you felt transported!
Good one Jed! Just had to share it. . .
Glad you like, Elizabeth! And, thanks for sharing!
That is just “nice”! Auguri, Jed! may you continue to enjoy the fruits of your labors!
Thanks, Michelle! I really could sip a small tumbler of this amazing oil every night. Maybe it will replace my glass of wine. Or, maybe not. I’ll have both!