Olive Harvest and Pressing (23-24 November, 2012)

After a very hot summer and a worryingly dry and warm fall, the few olives on our trees looked small, wrinkled and thirsty. They were not ready to be harvested and pressed in October, when we had scheduled our olive-dedicated class, so we had to cancel it. Mid-November the olives finally plumped up, after some much-anticipated rains, but it was too late and we couldn’t have scheduled a class, as there is always the danger that ferries won’t cross to Kea. Winds and storms are not rare this time of the year, and we cannot risk leaving visitors stranded either across, on the mainland, or on the island, missing their flights…


One day was enough for the few olives our trees produced this year. Stathi, Ela, Polyxeni and Joseph worked the whole day on Friday, beating the branches so that the fruit would fall on the nets. Men usually do the beating, sometimes even climbing into the trees and ‘combing’ the branches with the special comb to get the olives.


Women then undertake the tedious work of separating the fruit from the sprigs and branches. As they were doing this, Ela and Polyxeni were pestered by Neva, our puppy, whom we struggled to keep away from the nets.


On Saturday, early in the morning, we filled the machine with olives and started the pressing, but then the problems started, and we had to stop. I don’t want to get into the painful details here, but after a day of frustration, endless calls, meticulous rinsing and a few failed attempts, Stathi decided to practically dismantle and re-assemble the machine. Only then, late in the afternoon, the pressing proceeded smoothly.


As the light faded, we filled the first bottle with golden and peppery olive oil.


The pressing continued well into the night, and after all olives were pressed, Costas took the dry ‘mud’ left after the olive oil was extracted, to Yanni and Margarita, our neighbors who keep pigs. Apparently this filthy-looking by-product is very nourishing, but needs to be given to the pigs in small quantities, partly enriching their usual diet.


We love our winters on the island, but we have to accept the consequences of sea-crossing and follow the weather reports to plan accordingly, whenever we have to go to Athens. We wish we could have visitors now, when Kea is all green and calm. We recently planted our garden with lettuce, spinach, kale, cauliflowers and broccoli, and we will soon start gathering horta, the fragrant wild greens that sprout after the rains, covering the rocky hills of Kea. Occasionally we take part in the local pig-slaughtering feasts islanders organize, following the old traditions of the Cyclades, but overall this is the time we devote to reading and writing, but also trying new recipes, and baking breads; and for Costas there is lots of pruning…


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