Picking Olives in Italy

In October of 2004 we stayed for two weeks in Citta della Pieve, the capitol of Perugia, Umbria, in Italy.  Citta is a tiny village with a castle that was the birthplace of the artist Perugino. 

We were fortunate to know someone whose cousin owned an Agritourismo, or the Italian version of a B&B (pre-dating the Air version).  They were an interesting couple, he a white-haired American Italian who had grown up speaking Italian in little Italy, and she, a slim well-educated New Englander.  Their little daughter was trying out the Italian school. 

Because it was off-season, and we were the only guests, we were allowed to cook all our meals there if we wished.  The house is a restored 14th century stone farmhouse common to that region and others in Italy.  The main floor had originally housed the livestock of the farm.  Now, it has a wide stone hearth and massive fireplace, along with a completely modern kitchen. 

One day our hostess said that they were picking olives today and they would give us lunch when we were done, if we cared to help.   The house was set in a valley and semi-ringed by its olive groves uphill from the house.  Before we left, our host gave us baskets and explained that we pick both the black and the green olives, and not to be too fussy about harvesting the leaves – evidently they lend a distinctive flavor to the oil.  And, he was careful to tell us that olives on the tree are not edible.  Once we got there, Bob immediately tried one and immediately spit it out!   We trekked up the arid, dusty, bumpy road to the grove, finding the nets that catch the olives already spread out by the farmhands.  The ladders are twisted olive-wood and seemed to fit organically into the insterstices of the olive trees.  Olive trees are gnarled and medium-sized, like apple trees in the united states.   Once we were up the ladders, we threw down as many of olives as we could reach, sometimes with their leaves, down into the nets.   I really wanted to climb in the trees and I remember feeling accomplished, looking down at the greenish nets filling with olive branches. 

to be continued…

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