The Olive Harvest

Posted on 11. Nov, 2008 by in Culture, Food

November to December is the period in which the Raccolta delle Olive (Olive Harvest) generally takes place here in Toscana (Tuscany) and last weekend we were busy helping our friends who have several hectares of Olives near Pistoia to collect their harvest.

At this time of year the ground under the olive trees has to be kept clear, and any vegetation is cut with a trimmer or more traditionally a falce (scythe). This enabled us to spread the large nets underneath the trees which makes it much easier to pick up all the olives.

There are four main ways of harvesting olives:

 

1. Brucatura

This is the traditional method in which the olives are harvested by hand and it is undoubtedly the best in terms of the quality of oil produced because neither the olives nor the ramoscelli (twigs) are damaged. The downside is that it’s very labor intensive and time consuming. We usually use a kind of small rake to comb along the stems thereby pulling the olives off so that they fall into the nets spread out below.

 

2. Bacchiatura

This involves beating the branches of the tree with a bastone (stick) or canna (cane) to make all the mature olives fall off. This method is often used if the tree is too big to make collection by hand practical.

 

3. Scuotitura

Scuotere in Italian means to shake, but the shaking in this case is done by machines, which are attached to the trunk causing the tree to vibrate and the olives to fall. This method would only really be used by big commercial growers due to the cost of the machinery involved, but in the long term it’s far more cost effective than hiring a labor force to pick by hand.

 

4. Cascola naturale

This is probably the least labor-intensive method. The olives are literally left to fall off the tree in their own good time into the nets set out in advance. The quality of the oil produced in this way is, however, pretty poor.

 

The method that we used was a mixture of Brucatura, hand collection with rastrellini (little rakes) and mechanical Bacchiatura. Instead of using sticks to beat the trees we used an Oliviero (a mechanical olive beater). This consists of a metal pole with a rotating head powered by electricity (provided by car batteries!). The rotating head has four plastic prongs, which beat the twigs and knock the olives into the nets and, well just about everywhere else! In fact you have to wear goggles and a hat because olives are pretty hard, especially when flying down from a height of four meters or so, ouch!

The raccolta delle olive on a small scale is more of a Festa (celebration) than work, a bit like the Vendemmia (grape harvest), and it was of course obligatory to stop for pranzo a mezzogiorno (lunch at midday) and to eat a few hunks of Tuscan bread, Pecorino cheese, salad and potatoes liberally sprinkled with this years best?….. Yes you’ve guessed it, Olio Extra Vergine di Oliva.

 

Buon appetito.

 

 

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6 Responses to “The Olive Harvest”

  1. ROLLANDO 12 November 2008 at 8:02 am #

    I wonder if any varieties of olive trees can be grown around the Pittsburgh,PA (USA) area? If not for harvesting but perhaps for decorative purposes. I have been contemplating of making my backyard to look a little like a Italian countryside. The size area of my yard is approximately 180 feet deep by 70 feet wide.

  2. Moon Over Martinborough 31 May 2009 at 6:57 am #

    For our harvest in New Zealand this year, we used the small hand-held rakes, as well as mechanical rakes that shake the branches. The mechanical rake system is compressor driven and imported from Italy. While it’s fast, it’s also loud and makes friendly harvest conversation difficult!

  3. Serena 2 June 2009 at 9:27 am #

    Dear Moon over Martinborough, Is that a traditional New Zealand name?
    I have to agree that although the mechanical harvesting system is quicker it does detract a bit from the social side, as well as drowning out the peace and quiet of the countryside! Do you use your olives for eating or, like us, for making oil?

  4. Moon Over Martinborough 22 June 2009 at 4:54 am #

    Hi – ‘Moon Over Martinborough’ is the name of my blog. My names’s Jared. I’m an expat American living in NZ.

    I agree the mechanical rakes are noisy!

    The olives we pick with mechanical rakes we press for oil, but we also do some hand picking for pickling purposes.

  5. tiffany cesena 24 June 2010 at 9:41 pm #

    my olive tree finally has enough fruits on it to harvest for the first time, but I’m not sure how to tell when they are ripe. Any tips on when to pick? (I’m in Chile, just starting winter).

  6. serena 25 June 2010 at 12:37 pm #

    Salve Tiffany, Here in northern Tuscany the harvest begins in November, and some people harvest in December. However I haven’t got a clue about the right time to pick in Chile. It would be best to ask someone local to you who knows the climate. There are also lots of different varieties of olive, here for example the olives are a small variety that is only used for oil. Do you know what type of olives you have?

    A presto, Serena


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