If you’re following me you know why I’m here in Tuscany. If you’re not then click on my other posts and you’ll get most of the story! This past week proved yet another chance to heal and I’m grateful for every minute. My experience in the hills of Tuscany is heartwarming. It’s Harvest Time And I Get More Out Of It Then Just Olives.
It’s Harvest Time And I Get More Out Of It Then Just Olives
I’m here at the perfect time of year for harvesting olives and my gracious hosts, Franco and Grazia, who have become more like family, have included me in the festivities.
The weather is a bit cooler than when I first arrived, the ground is a bit damp from a bout of rain, and there’s a hint of olive in the air. Franco and Grazia’s farm is small, just enough olive trees to produce olive oil for family and friends but big enough that they need help with the harvest.
The night before the harvest, those that will participate, get together at the farmhouse for a pre-harvest celebration, I’m tickled about how Italians can find a celebration in anything. I feel honored that they’ve included me and am excited to see all the people that have become fast friends in the month that I’ve been here. There’s lots of typical Tuscan food and everyone, men, women, and children chip in with the preparations.
Someone grabs a guitar and starts to play and then someone else jumps on the piano…the party has started! A drum is introduced and Francesca, a beautiful woman from Southern Italy, starts to sing; her incredible talent strikes me. Her soulful voice is captivating and she seems to never tire.
We eat, laugh, drink, and drink, and drink. It starts with organic red wine then changes to Prosecco and then to Limoncello.
At some point I realize it’s 1 am and we have to get up early for the harvest the next day! Slowly the party dies down and we all head out to our perspective homes…mine just a door away!
I’m up and ready to go. I’m in love with how life is here in this little town. People work hard but they also enjoy life to the fullest. There’s no rush to get things done at a certain time and in a certain way and that seems to be the case today.
I find Franco putting on his boots and Grazia already getting things ready for the lunch they will feed the harvesters. We casually gather things together and someone shows up to help. There are just three of us for now and we head down to the orchard.
Olive trees are planted in much the same way that rice paddies in Asia are, on tiers. It prevents crowding and is better for irrigation.
The nets that catch the olives went down the day before so we are free to get started with the picking. Franco has a hand held, battery operated device that shakes the trees so they release the olives but he only has one and that’s used for the tops where people can’t reach.
We each choose a tree and before I know it everyone from the night before and some that I’ve never met have arrived. Franco stops to greet each one with a handshake or kiss. I’m impressed and touched to see that friendship comes before work.
The day starts off foggy and it seems like it might rain, but that doesn’t dampen the mood. I stand by myself for a while and take stock of where I am. I’m truly grateful I’m here…in this place, with these people, so filled with love and happiness. It’s contagious and I thank the Universe for the thousandth time for knowing exactly what I’ve always wanted and providing it to me when I finally figured out how to let it be!
I realize, while I was daydreaming about how wonderful my life is turning out, that the sun is pushing through the fog and it’s getting warmer.
The olives are perfect for picking, Franco tells me, because they are half black and half green and, as I pluck them from their stems, some of them are actually sweating oil. My hands are covered with it and I love the smell and feel.
People pass by to visit, laughing, teasing, and throwing olives at each other. The kids are running up and down and every once in a while I see Franco stop what he’s doing to help one of them jump to the next tier or untangle a foot from the nets.
There’s no rushing, demanding, or barking orders; everyone is free to pick the olives at his or her own pace. I love the atmosphere, the noises, the smells, and as I suck in another lung full of fresh mountain air I hear a guitar.
At first I think I might still be drunk from the night before but no…it’s Nicola, a gifted guitar player and one of my new friends sitting casually on a chair at the top of the orchard strumming away.
Seriously?!…this could be scripted in a movie…but it’s real and I’m hear experiencing every minute of it. My smile has become permanent these days.
It’s almost 1:00 pm, the usual lunchtime in Tuscany and I decide to head up to take a shower. Nicola has graciously volunteered to be my guide and take me into Lucca to see the ancient city. I’m wondering if it was a plan to avoid having to participate in the harvest! Either way, I’m happy to get the chance to go.
I head outside to the tables that have been set up and the group of men and women who weren’t picking olives that helped to prepare a gorgeous lunch. There’s no chauvinism here, at least not in Tuscany, women aren’t expected to cook while men work. Men cook, clean, and take care of their children equally as much as their partners. However, they do innately treat women with softness and respect. It’s refreshing and wonderful to witness. When that time comes again in my life, I may just have to consider an Tuscano man!
We sit down to tables filled with cold cuts, cheeses, breads, pastas, vegetables, various sauces, and desserts, oh and bottles and bottles of wine!
Everyone is chatting, laughing, and relaxed; there’s no hurry to get back to work. After an hour and a half it’s decided that they will return to the orchard and Nicola and I head off to Lucca. (That experience is for another post!)
Pressing the Oil
The day after harvesting Franco and Grazia ask me to join them to take the olives to be pressed into olive oil. I’m thrilled to go. I’ve never seen this process before and I’m eager to taste the oil when it’s just a few minutes old.
The one day harvest produces several crates of olives and we drive them to a factory in town. Franco takes each crate and, with an air of pride, dumps them into a hopper that will separate the leaves and stems from the olives.
We’re free to enter the factory and watch the process. After the olives run through the separating hopper they are washed. I watch with a little bit of pride of my own, knowing I hand picked a few hundred of those olives myself!
After washing they go into a machine that brings them to the perfect temperature for pressing. This process takes about an hour and a half so Franco, Grazia and I do what most people do while they wait; we go to a local café and have an espresso.
I’m in love with this small town, it’s medieval walls and architecture and the café is right in the middle of it all.
After we have our coffee Grazia, knowing how much in love I am with the town, asks me to walk with her through the narrow roads to see some of it up close.
We meander through the streets and she tells me about some of the history of the town. She brings me to a tall wall that surrounds a tiny village. We walk up to the top of a steep hill where we can see over the wall. There I can see it protects several villas and a small church.
Grazia explains that this used to be a summer home for the Medici family from the 15th century! She tells me that sometimes you can go in and see the ceilings that are wonderfully painted like many in Florence. Unfortunately they aren’t open on this day.
We make our way back to the olive press factory and get there just in time to see our oil come out of the hopper. It’s a prideful moment for us all! The dark, rich, pungent green oil pours into a clean tin can that Franco and Grazia use specifically for the occasion.
It’s beautiful and I can’t wait to try it. They tell me that the first few hours after it’s pressed are the best and they aren’t lying. I have some fresh Tuscan bread drizzled with the fresh oil and a bit of salt. It is nothing I’ve ever tasted before. The explosion of flavor is intense and I can’t get enough.
We bring 15lbs of it back with us and I get my very own bottle!
Reflecting on this day I find that I’m feeling a bit sad for the day I have to leave; it’s just a month away and I know it will go by way too quickly. I’ve come to see these people as extended family. They have welcomed me without expectation and with genuine care.
Yes, some of them know my story, but I get the sense that it’s just that…a story. It’s me they have included in their lives, it’s me they share their home with, it’s me they include in their ordinary tasks not my story or in pity of what’s happened.
I’m grateful that I was lead to this place, to these people who are helping me to become whole again. Their honest love of life and each other helps me appreciate my life and allows me to love myself again, imperfections and all. For it’s the cracks that let the light in!
Have you ever been to Tuscany? Share your experiences with us!
Are you a solo female traveler? Join my exclusive Facebook Group and share, learn, and journey with other wonderful women who explore our beautiful world.