Raccogliere – To reap or to harvest.
Country living in Abruzzo means the rhythm of life isha heavily influenced by the grape and olive harvests. The grape harvest tends to be a more industrial affair, but the olives are often a family and community event. Everyone it seems, has at least a few olive trees. The grapes are harvested during the last half of October, and once that is completed, they move right into the olive groves in the beginning of November. Buildings that have been shut all year open to reveal small olive processing operations and they run twenty four hours a day.
This year was our first olive harvest. We helped in the olive grove of some friends that had a few dozen trees. Each tree can produce perhaps enough olives for three to four liters of oil. Harvest time is an all hands on deck situation. Family and friends descend on trees with small hand rakes and basically comb through the branches and rake the olives down onto nets laid under the trees.
The process has also been automated with an electric rake called an abbacchiatore.
The device has two sets of prongs that flap together rapidly, knocking the olives off the branches. Once a tree is cleared, we lift the nets at one end to roll all the olives down to the other, and scoop them into large sacks. At the end of the day the sacks are all carted up to the house and emptied into larges olive crates.
The work is not terribly taxing, but expect to have sore shoulders at the end of the day from all the overhead work. On the bright side, your work will be fueled by breaks for panini with fresh local proscutto and montepulciano wine from local vineyards. At sundown, after folding all the nets, and unloading all the sacks of olives from the trailer into the shed, we gathered in the house in front of a warm fire for an excellent dinner of pasta, roast lamb and pork. After dinner, once the plates were cleared, a bottle of San Pasquale was placed on the table and we spent the remainder of the evening downing tiny glasses of the fiery green liquor while enjoying the evening with friends.
Update to post. The traditional payment for helping with the harvest is to receive some of the literal fruits of your labor. We received the bottle of oil shown below containing oil from this years harvest. Fresh olive oil is cloudy, not clear like the filtered oils you get from the store. It also has, at least here in Abruzzo, a slight peppery aftertaste. The traditional way to enjoy fresh oil is to sprinkle some on a slice of good Italian bread which has been toasted directly over an open flame. Then sprinkle a little salt and enjoy.