An important part of living and working in Andalusia, Spain is the olive harvest, which Chef Clive of our cooking vacations Cooking in Andalusia Olive Country and Flavors of Andalusia takes part in every year by helping his friends Maria and Franci.
With 260 varieties of olives in Spain (3 of which are common to Andalusia), one tree producing 100-200 kilograms of olive fruits, and Clive and his friends harvesting over 3,000 kilograms of olives over the course of three days, the harvest is hard work, but rewarding, as Chef Clive recounts here.
“As soon as the festive celebrations are over, olive harvest begins here in Andalucía once again… It is quite amazing to see these ‘sacred’ trees produce tons of small egg-shaped fruits followed by the infestation of pollen in the air in the early summer and this has been repeated year after year since the Roman times.
“During the low season in winter, I regularly help out my friends, who live in our village and harvest their own olives. This daily work is seven hours of solid manual labor and the working condition is pretty harsh as it can be very cold in winter.
“First, we lay out a large net on the ground around the tree. If the ground is uneven or steep, we must use pegs and sticks to raise the net’s edge, so the olives do not fall out. My friends don’t like losing even one single olive! With a long wooden or light fiberglass pole, we gently shake the branches. Franci sometime uses a motorized shaker, while Maria and I shake the branches fast but very carefully.
“Once all the olives are shaken, we gather them by moving the net, and quickly throw out any unwanted leaves or branches. Then the olives are placed in a soft sack to protect the olives from bruising. If they are damaged, it is bad news as they start to ferment and the damaged olives are graded as low quality.
“Around 1pm, we stop for an hour of lunch. We all have a picnic lunch that often includes sandwiches with extra virgin olive oil as well as jamón, grilled chorizo or grilled meat, salad, fruits, dried nuts and some chocolate and cakes. Very basic, but all cured meats and cakes are home-made — such as you would make in a Spain cooking class, and fruits and vegetables are home-grown, hence they taste nothing like the ones you buy in the stores.
“After lunch we start our work again. Between the three of us, we can often clear 10 to 12 trees a day.
“Once the harvest is done, Franci takes the olives to either a private oil mill or the Cooperation of Olives to sell them to the highest bidder. The price of olives fluctuate like the stocks and shares in the financial market.
“After I arrive home at 6pm, I am more than tired. Once I’ve had a quick shower, I have a long conversation with our son who does not stop asking questions about the harvest while Maki cooks a great dinner of fusion food, or anything that she is inspired to cook. It is always very well balanced and imaginative, as it is in our cooking classes. Since she cooks, I get to have a bit of a rest from the kitchen after a long day at the olive grove… This is the moment when I really appreciate how much my Chef/teacher job means to me.”
With all this work, it’s no surprise that Spain is the biggest producer of olive oil, with 75% of all oils originating from Andalusia. Discover more about Andalusia cooking and the olive harvest with our culinary vacation in Andalusia!
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