Gorgeously gnarled and twisted olive trees--at least 500 years old--dotted the hilltop at the country villa where we stayed in Morro d'Oro, Abruzzo, Italy. The beautiful texture of the bark alone would have been worthy of an entire afternoon of sketching!
Instead, a group of us spent an afternoon under the warm sun picking olives from the younger "cousins" of these trees! (The smaller trees were "only" about 200 years old). The beginning of the olive harvest begins right around the first of October, so we were there at the perfect time.
What a special opportunity it was to pick olives in the Italian countryside! It sounded like such a novelty, like it would be a fun and memorable experience. The thing we didn't expect was that it would actually be work! The owner and staff at the villa wanted us to experience picking olives the "old fashioned" way so that we might appreciate each drop of olive oil as a precious treasure--in a good year, only 9-10% of the total weight of the olive harvest actually becomes olive oil!
They don't harvest olives with these little hand rakes anymore. Now just two men can bring in the entire harvest--they drive around on a machine that attaches to each tree, shakes the tree hard for 30 seconds, and catches the olives as they simply fall from the branches. Not only is this method quicker and and easier, shaking the trees benefits the roots by bringing in extra oxygen.
Even as we worked harvesting olives, the Italians continued to spoil us. One of the waiters--a sweet, smiling young man with braces and wearing a bright orange apron--walked around among the trees serving water and wine. I think it was meant to be a taste of the way the olive-picking women in the "old days" would fortify themselves with wine and a hearty meal in the early mornings before going out to harvest all day. Of course, they wouldn't have been blessed with such service even as they worked! Sometimes we were picking olives one-handed, as the waiter pressed another glass into our grasp anytime he noticed our hands were empty. Such generous and genuine hospitality in Italy! I've never experienced anything else like it.
Oh, and we were spoiled by the view too. It was like Heaven on Earth!!!