Ionia Guest House

Luxury accommodation in the Aegean countryside

Harvesting olives for Christmas

Winter is really here now, and with it has come the rain. Christmas has come and gone. We hope you are all having a relaxing break, wherever you are. We plan to give ourselves the next few days off, but right up until Christmas Eve we’ve been busy with the olive harvest, and also painting and tiling one more bedroom in time for a visit from Sirem’s dad.

Winter sunset looking towards Mount Mycale.

Winter sunset looking towards Mount Mycale.

Every month I learn something new about Mediterranean agriculture. Previously, I had no idea olives were harvested so late in the year. Apparently it’s all about leaving them on the tree for long enough to produce a lot of oil, but not leaving them so long that they start to fall off. From early December onwards, all the hillsides around the village are dotted with the white nylon sheets used to catch the olives when the trees are beaten with sticks.

Olives on the tree.

Olives on the tree.

We have about 15 trees, which is not many by local standards. But being non-experts, we decided to get some professional help in anyway. Thanks to Mustafa and Leyla we got our olives down from the trees in a single (long, tiring, back-breaking) day. And then another day to sort them and get them all into sacks.

Freshly harvested olives.

Freshly harvested olives.

Sirem choosing the biggest and best olives for eating: the rest become olive oil.

Sirem choosing the biggest and best olives for eating: the rest become olive oil.

I couldn’t believe that only 15 trees produced about 350 kg of olives. We can’t possibly eat that many, so most of them are going to be pressed into olive oil at one of the local processing plants. It takes about 5 kg of olives to make one litre of oil, which means we should be set up for olive oil for the foreseeable future.

Most of our olive harvest (a few more sacks added later).

Most of our olive harvest (a few more sacks added later).

The biggest and juiciest olives are put aside for eating, but you have to pick them out manually and that takes some time. Right now our best olives have been washed and salted and are sitting in sacks under the weight of some bricks: it will take a month or more before they’re ready to eat. We know they’re going to taste good though, because we’ve already tried some early-harvest olives we picked a few weeks back.

Here's some we made earlier: pressed, salted olives in oil and oregano.

Here’s some we made earlier: pressed, salted olives in oil and oregano.

We also made time for a trip to the nursery. We love our orchard, but we don’t want to grow only figs and olives up there. We bought all sorts of things: a cherry tree, some oleander bushes and trees, different kinds of cypresses, a bay tree, rosemary, lavender, and more. Currently they’re all sitting in pots in the courtyard, but we need to get them into the ground and start the long job of landscaping what we hope will be a wonderful garden some day.

A selection of trees and shrubs.

A selection of trees and shrubs.

I’m in two minds about mentioning our progress on the kitchen, because I’m a bit embarrassed about how long it’s all taking. But things are progressing and we will get there eventually. We’re very proud of having made our own drawers, and people who’ve visited us already will know how much of a big deal it was to finally have a sink in the kitchen.

Drawers! Actual working drawers!

Drawers! Actual working drawers!

Our long-awaited kitchen sink.

Our long-awaited kitchen sink. (Ignore the worktop: that’s just plywood and will get tiled soon.)

Christmas Eve was exhausting, because we had to grout the new tiles in the oldest bedroom before Sirem’s dad arrived on the 25th. This came after a day of olive harvesting, of course. It was worth it, because now we have another warm and welcoming bedroom — but we don’t want to do it again in a hurry. It was nice to relax by the fire on Christmas Day, watching our dinner cook in the coals, and enjoying a few glasses of distinctively named Turkish wine.

Christmas dinner cooking in a clay oven.

Christmas dinner cooking in a clay oven.

Cheers!

Cheers!

8 Comments

  1. Wow. Those olives look amazing! I picked 5 kg of olives up from a local Turkish grocery store and tried preserving them a bit earlier in the year, but completely failed, and they went a bit mouldy. Disappointing. Will have to try again soon.

    I’ve just been catching up on your blog posts. I love all these construction projects. Particularly impressed by the sofa! :-)

    • Jason

      27 December, 2014 at 2:08 pm

      Hi, Duncan — sorry for the wait for your comment to appear; it got caught by the spam filter. Sorry about that!

      You’re making me nervous about the olives now. :) An old friend on Facebook had a similar experience. Hopefully there are enough experts around here that we will be steered in the right direction. We’re getting no shortage of helpful advice about how to do it, anyway.

      Cheers for the compliments re construction. The sofa is best experienced by sitting on it, of course: you have to come and try it out!

  2. Looks like a good harvest. Out of curiosity and since my knowledge of olive cultivation is poor, is the black olive the native variety? I suppose there would be subtle differences in taste in the olive oil extracted from the black and green varieties respectively. From experience, darker fruits tend to be more spicy and have a richer flavour, which should reflect in the oil as well. Wishing you both a happy new year in advance. Best, Sid

    • Jason

      27 December, 2014 at 3:01 am

      Thanks, Sid.

      Actually there’s only one variety of olive: whether it’s green or reddish-purple or black depends on how ripe it is when you pick it. (Although the Spanish are alleged to do some dirty tricks with black dye.) The Turkish style definitely seems to be to pick them late. I will report back on how spicy they turn out, but I’m told that the fermentation/curing process is just as important as the fruit itself in determining the final taste.

  3. Hi You Two,
    As usual a very interesting and informative post.
    What a huge difference in lifestyle from Wilton Crescent. Such a learning curve.
    If only you could magically transfer your 350kg of olives direct to Sainsbury’s shelves at £4 per measly few grams you’d be millionaires overnight.
    Your clay oven shot was reminiscent of a rural delight.
    Enjoy your little rest, have a super 2015 and pass on our regards to the renovated bedroom occupants.
    C & D.

    • Jason

      27 December, 2014 at 2:11 pm

      It’s definitely been a change! :)

      Yes, we need to sort out some kind of underground pipeline through the Balkans leading directly to Sainsburys HQ. 350 kg of olives would go a long way in a British supermarket.

      Thanks for the good wishes and I will pass on your greetings to Sirem’s mum and dad. Best wishes for the new year to both of you as well.

  4. Stuart 'Humuhumunukunukuapua'a' Rossiter

    27 December, 2014 at 12:23 pm

    That’s a n impressive bounty of olives. I remember when I was in Italy and had a look at a small plot some friends of the family had in a local allotment-type area. The richness of the harvest was just incredible (mostly tomatoes, peppers, beans, aubergines, pumpkins…) and the soil didn’t even look that good. Being used to English widescale farmland it was a bit of a (pleasant) shock.

    Anyway, have a good festive period and try not to choke on the Dikmen. (Sorry.)

    P.S. Your kitchen embarrassment seems totally unwarranted. For a flattering comparison, I still haven’t drilled four holes in my bike shed (or put up two curtain tie-backs) after approximately 4 months :-)

    • Jason

      27 December, 2014 at 2:05 pm

      You realize you will eventually break WordPress with these increasingly long nicknames, right? Or is that the plan? :)

      I know what you mean about how much comes out of a small patch of soil in the Mediterranean. I had the same reaction to our neighbour’s garden: just a ridiculous variety of things coming out of a quarter-acre.

      Thanks for the good wishes. Hope you are also having a relaxing break. And don’t worry, the Dikmen is something of an acquired taste and I am treating it with caution.

      That’s kind of you to say about the kitchen, but remember this is supposed to be my job now! At least you have the excuse of going to work between DIY sessions.

      Love to Cecilia and Erik.

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