Thursday, November 13, 2008

What a week.

It has been said that a week is a long time in politics. Well whoever said that should try a week in Italy with a very young, large puppy when it is also olive picking time.

Bertie is doing fine. We went to see the vet in Sarnano for his first inoculation. The vet is a lovely lady who studied veterinary science at Edinburgh. Her English is good and she speaks with a hint of Scottish.
She gave him a really good going over and pronounced herself very pleased with him. She was the vet he went to when he was first rescued, so has known him since he was 2 days old.
Anyway, she said she needed to weigh him. She got on the scales, noted her weight and then held Bertie and got on the scales again. She got off and got on again. Then put him down and got on the scales again, alone. “Oh,” she said. “He’s 3.8 kilos. I had to check. He’s quite big, isn’t he?” I thought, “3.8 kilos and he’s only just over 6 weeks old. He’s going to be huge”. Look at the size of his paw and my thumb nail:

We have had a few conversations with various Italians this week and whenever they see Bertie or we mention that he a Maremma, they have all said, “Ooh, grande cane!” Yes, yes we now know he is going to be a big dog.
Anyway he has to go back to the vet for his final jab at the end of the month and then he will be able to consort with the hoi polloi. It will be lovely to have him outside. He is so curious about pretty much everything. He is great fun and keeps us amused with his puppy antics. He doesn’t yet realise that there is a link between his front legs and back ones when it comes to climbing stairs. He goes onto the first step and then stops. You can almost see him thinking that something else should happen now but he has no idea what. Mind you, it won’t be long.

Olive Oil – part 1 the picking

Why did we have no one staying at this time of year? It would have been very helpful.

Here we are now in full olive picking mode. The world and his wife seem to be out with nets and ladders, perched in olive trees, stripping them of their yummy harvest.

Our neighbour said the best time to pick was on and after San Martino, which is the 11th November (remembrance day). Some people here also take it to be the beginning of winter and it is often celebrated with roasted chestnuts. The forecast was not looking too good for the 12th onwards, so we actually started to pick a bit on 10th. We started on the trees furthest from the house on the basis that we would have more enthusiasm during the initial harvesting, and wouldn't mind the lugging and carrying up the garden.

So we were hard at it that afternoon. We inherited some very old ladders that have been fabricated from what I take to be smallish, straight trees and fashioned rungs, held to together with, yes you’ve guessed it, wire. Now this has both up-sides and down-sides. When they are used against a solid object and rest on a solid surface, like concrete, they feel very flimsy and move about sideways rather alarmingly. However, when they are used to put up against olive tress they are really good. The reason being that the bottom sort of finds its own position on the rough ground and the top fits does the same against the branches. The result being, almost 100% of the time, a good, solid feel to it. Of course there is always an exception that proves the rule (or some equally obfuscating cliché). I was really getting into my stride, stripping the berries from the twigs. There was nice big bunch just within reach. Ooh, it suddenly came more into reach and then it suddenly shot past me as I hurtled past it and jumped off the toppling ladder onto the ground. Fortunately, I was only about a couple of metres up the tree, but it is on quite a slope, so I ended up quite a bit down the garden. “I’m OK. Nothing broken” I said to the mildly amused la Duchessa. “Well, do stop messing around and get the ladder set up again. We haven’t got all day”, she said. I limped gamely back to the tree clutching the ladder, put it up against the foliage and started again. No further mishaps to report.
We did quite a bit more on Tuesday after returning from the vets and then really got stuck in on Wednesday. We did not pick all the olives, leaving the small ones and those on trees that are almost impossible to reach either because they are positioned in the most extraordinary places for harvesting purpose, or the berries were too far up and out on the edge of the trees. We will be even more drastic in our pruning this time and try to make sure that what olives do grow, can be harvested.
A net is essential and we had bought one that had to fit the biggest tree we have. So we got an 8X8 mt one. It was a bit of handful on the smaller trees, so next year we might have to invest in a smaller one too. We kept filling our plastic boxes having rolled the olives down the net to collect in one place. Fairly rapidly the boxes began to fill. When we weighed them that night, we had picked about 170 kilos.
Injuries? La Duchessa had a twig whip round and catch her in the eye. She spent most of Wednesday night winking at me. I took this as a positive, rather romantic tic, whereas in fact La Duchessa informed me as I tried to pursue my line of belief, that she was having trouble seeing out of it. Apart from that, two pairs of sore hands were evident, and of course we were a bit stanco. We are only amateur pickers at the moment.

Olive Oil – part 2 Il Oleficio

After the weighing, we nipped up to our local oleficio, mill, where they would take the olives, press them and produce our own olive oil. This was quite exciting.
We were met by an old lady who was sweeping up outside the place and whose broom had just lost its head. Was this an omen?
In our best halting Italian we asked if we need to book a pressing for our 170 kilos. She asked again how much we had. After repeating the quantity, she seemed to suffer a quite infectious laughing fit. Still cackling with laughter she went off to find the capo. The capo came out and we re-iterated our request. After a little while of more laughter and “ho capito” and “non ho capito”, we understood that we just had to come back the next morning with the olives and they would be pressed then. We discovered that the reason for the mirth was that the lady thought we wanted to book the whole mill just for our 170 kilos. Very expensive olive oil.

So, up early next day. Packed the car with our olives and returned to il oleficio. There were a few people there already and the press was in full flow. Quite an interesting process. There is a big hopper at ground level, so the berries can be poured or tipped in from crates. An elevator takes them up some at a time and then they go through a sort of debris/leaf shifter before going into the press. Not sure what happens from here on in, but the oil comes out a bit later and goes through a cold filter and into the customers’ containers. These varied from old 5 litre wine bottles, through 20-30 litre plastic containers (like we had) to 50 litre stainless steel jobs with taps at the bottom. You are only supposed to use plastic containers to get the oil back home where you must decant into glass or stainless steel. The waste comes out looking like a lot of dryish poo really. What happens to some of it is that it is taken away and pressed into briquettes for use on an open fire. They are very good to burn and have a lovely smoky (daft as it sounds) fragrance to them. The smell reminds me of peat burning. The rest I think is used for compost somehow. The mill has been operating for a couple of weeks now and will probably be busy till the end of the year. They had stopped by mid December last year because of the poor crops – too dry a year and many olives were struck down by a parasitic worm that attacks them – but this year is much better.
More and more people were turning up and they mostly had more than we had, probably averaging around 250 – 300 kilos. Everybody knew everyone else and it was quite a social gathering. The other thing that I quite liked was that the average age of people there made me feel like a teenager.
We saw all this oil going into the containers. Beautiful pale green nectar. Then it was our turn. It really was quite something to see “your” olive oil. Our first ever olive oil, all 22 litres of it. Fantastic. We are hoping that it will last until this time next year.
We paid the capo and returned home feeling pretty chuffed.

Ciao, mantenere de fede

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