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Postcard - Picking Olives, A First Hand Account

Margaret Leon

It all started when we told all of our friends with olive trees that we wanted to experience picking olives. Two of our friends needed help, and so began our olive picking career. Since we had no idea what to do, we arrived at Ricardo's early, with high rubber boots, old clothes and gloves. Seemed like appropriate attire except that there were too many layers because it was a warm, sunny few days. He had other family members there and truly thought that these Americans (us) would be of little help! I proved him wrong!

We first had to lay down these huge nets to catch the olives as they were scraped from the branches either with gloved or bare hands, or special rakes. Since the more experienced ones were high up in the treetops, I took the lower branches and John emptied buckets of olives into the tractor. I must say that I thoroughly enjoyed it all. To me, it was a challenge of how many branches I could clean off before the top pickers finished their branches. I worked fast and furiously and even impressed Ricardo, who stated that he didn't think I could work so hard and so long! The most difficult trees were the ones on the slopes since the nets had to be held up on stakes to keep the olives from rolling off. By midday, the holes in the nets were getting a bit bigger so I started to sew them together since we were losing too many. Sometime later in the day, it was time to be fed by Ricardo's wife, who, not only picked olives all day, but prepared a feast for the pickers.

The next friend we helped waited too late in the season because she couldn't summon all her help in time. Since the season was earlier than usual, only a few of her American friends flew in for this and the others from Sweden never made it in time. Now, I must say, I was the experienced, seasoned picker in the group and directed everyone. It was my turn to be in the treetops. After we got all the nets down (unfortunately there were many steep slopes), I climbed the branches to the top with rake in hand. Since I was a tomboy as a child, this reminded me of when I was younger, climbing the old cherry tree in our yard. John was afraid I would fall out, a long way down to the bottom of the slope. I did slip a few times from a branch, but anchored myself well around the larger branches.

It was a cold, damp day and not as pleasant as the first time. I worked fast and we gathered many olives for such a small group. I liked working the treetops more, except when I started to hear gunshots in the distance, and squeals of the wild boar being hit. I thought I would be next. These hunters sounded too close for me! Since it was later in the season and there had been a lot of wind, many of the olives had fallen from some of the trees, but there was still a large enough yield.

Once again, the owner of these fields cooked a feast for her pickers and we ate hardily before going back to picking. The worst part of stopping to eat, is that you want to take a nap after such a busy morning-but we went back, reluctantly, and stayed with it until it started to get too dark to see the olives. John and I returned the next day to do it all over again. Her other American friends, whom I thought were there solely to pick olives, decided it was too much and went sightseeing!

Once the olives were picked, they were taken to the olive press in Panicale, where the rest of the process was completed. The best part of helping your friends pick olives is that your payment is many liters of the most delicious oil as a show of gratitude!!!

This year I had to return to the states just when the olive picking season began. I did manage to pick grapes in October for the same friend we helped the previous year. And, again, payment is a feast and some of the yield!!!

So now, I am an experienced grape and olive picker and look forward to next year's harvest!

Peggy lives in Paciano, Italy and is "Casa dei Sogni" on our message board.

© Margaret Leon, 2004

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