by Melinda Gallo

Raccolta delle olive

Last night, Alessandro's friend called to get me to talk to Alessandro about going to do the raccolta delle olive (pick olives). It's the season right now as the olives are perfect for making olive oil. I had been wanting to go and even asked Alessandro's dad if I could go with him, but because of our trip to the US I didn't insist on it as we both have a lot of work to catch up on. Needless to say, the early morning departure didn't appeal to me either, but I picked uva (grapes) a few years back and wanted to try my hand at the raccolta delle olive (olives).

Living in Florence :: Raccolta delle olive

After having colazione (breakfast) at our favorite bar near Alessandro's parent's house, we headed toward Siena to Alessandro's friend's house in an area called "Crete Senesi" where the land is the color of greyish clay. I had my camera out the whole time and had Alessandro stop more than once along the winding road so I could snap a few photos. The beautiful countryside with the long rows of green cipressi (cypress trees) is not only typical, but also enchanting.

We arrived around 10AM to howls from people picking olives in the olive trees and on the ground below. "Ecco gli sposi! (The newlyweds!)"

I quickly began helping out after greeting all the people I had met at the Palio last July. Everyone was incredibly friendly and so excited when we explained how and when we got married. They couldn't believe that we weren't on our luna di miele (honeymoon), but we're still planning that out.

When we were about ready to start, Alessandro explained to me that all I needed to do was get the olives off of the tree branches and let them fall onto the rete (net) carefully tucked around the tree trunk and spread out under the tree. He handed me a pair of gloves and off I went. There were two reti so we could do two trees at the same time in two groups.

I saw large branche (branches) that were cut from the olive tree and wrapped my hand around the base of the branca and swiftly pop off all of the olive. I was told that it was OK if a few foglie (leaves) came fell onto the rete as they add flavor to the olive oil.

I wasn't told, however, to be careful where I was stepping and I ended up pestare (stepping on) a few olive. After that, I was very careful as I realized that I should've known better.

The other group was singing and talking together while our group was a little more quiet. A few of the people in our group were talkative and joking around, but Alessandro and I ended up just working away and chatting only a little bit.

My favorite part was climbing onto the olive tree and trying to reach olive that were inaccessible from the ground. The more olive we could reach, the less likely we would have to cut the branches off of the tree.

We kept at it for a few hours and were served lunch on the terrazza (terrace) of the house at around 1PM. We sat down in the sun and talked together. It was really pleasant to be in a large group of people who were all smiling, laughing, and having a good time together. Most of the other people were also staying at the house for the long weekend while we only came down for the day. So, even though most of them had bonded for two days already, they welcomed us without any hesitation.

After lunch, we picked more olive from as many trees as we could. At times, we had to use two reti for one tree and then had to all work on the same tree. When there was some downtime, a few of us picked up a secchio (bucket) and hung it from one arm while we picked olive with our free hands.

It was very satisfying to see the crates that we were all able to fill with the olive and as we were leaving, the padrone di casa (head of the house) told us that we'd be getting a bottle of olio nuovo (new olive oil) when it has been pressed. It is certainly a nice gesture on his part, but I don't need anything in exchange because I was happy just helping out and being with the group.

I hope to go again sometime to do the raccolta delle olive because it was a great way to spend a sunny day in the countryside with a group of wonderful people.

When we got home, we were so tired that we went to sleep without having dinner. The fresh country air, the manual labor, and the early morning rise were enough to wipe us out for one day.

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