The first part of the "Greek
Life" guide, focuses on Olives - which can hardly be missed as there are an
estimated 3 million trees on Corfu!
I went out for the day with Olga. She has about
two hundred trees around and above Agni Bay.
Do not forget, olives are backbreaking work, so
when collecting them you will need one of these:
Olives flower during May.
suffer from 'hay fever' then you may need to avoid the first couple of weeks of
May - or find accommodation that is close to the sea.
During the summer months, the olives slowly
fatten. The olives start green and depending on the variety, (there are more
than 300 hundred types), they will turn purple, then black. (And you thought
that green olives were just unripe black ones!) Corfu mostly has the small
During October and November the
olive nets are prepared. Olive groves only give fruit every two years. Now
this may come as a suprise to you and it is certainly a little problematic. Nets from
groves not giving fruit need to be moved to those that are - not an easy
Before setting the nets under the trees, the
ground needs to be cleared of 'undergrowth'. With Corfu's warm climate weeds
and brambles thrive making the task of clearing difficult - often a petrol 'strimmer'
is employed rather than Olga's hand scythe.
The nets are 'laid' under the trees. Each net
is about 10m by 30m, making them awkward to position under the trees. They are 'sewn' together with nails or large plastic
pins. Usually the whole grove is covered with nets.
Now, to a controversial point: Olive spraying
which is needed to control the breeding of the olive fly -it lays its eggs in
the developing olive. The resulting grub eats the olive while growing and
destroys the fruit. Infestation of greater than 1% of olives in a grove
render them unusable for table olives and if greater than 10% unusable for
During previous harvests, the olives were sprayed from the air with
Lebaycid. This chemical is not as bad as it sounds -
not that I agree with it though - and it is currently used throughout America
to control mosquitoes. Since last year the EU banned aerial spraying,
resulting in a disastrous olive harvest this year. I am worried that unless a
solution is found, many locals will stop cultivating the olives or worse will
sell the land for development. Incidentally, the USDA is currently funding a
search in Africa for finding parasites to kill the fly.
Back to the olives! During December
the olives slowly ripen and then drop. Every ten days or so during this
period, a visit to each grove is need to collect the fallen olives. If they
are left any longer, they start to shrivel and their oil becomes useless.
The olives are collected using a short stick
with a nail in the end. Starting from the top of the grove, the stick is
pressed into the net, turned 90 degrees and then lifted. This action of
raising the net makes the olives run downwards. Once the olives start
rolling, coupled with a swift wrist action, the olives can be gathered into
small piles. The whole grove needs to be worked in this fashion.
Each pile of olives has to be
sifted of leaves and twigs. Then using a traditional "couva" they are scooped
up and put in to sacks.
(OK - its a plastic bucket!)
Back to where the donkey is
needed! The sacks need to be carried back to the road. Usually this is quiet
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The collected olives are either
'pressed' for their oil or preserved in brine for eating. Only the very best will be
Most get sent to the press.
There is nothing finer than
eating fresh bread and
olive oil that you have just had pressed!
The Olive Harvest
This winter's olive harvest
has started well, but the continuing problem of the olive fly is a worry. You may recall from
previous newsletters that the controversial spraying of the olives has
been banned by the EU. If the spraying is stopped, then an alternative
solution must be found, if not, my worry is that local people may stop
cultivating. When one talks about olive oil in Greece, it is hard to over
stress its significance to the local people above and beyond a cooking
ingredient. It always has and still does possess a major contribution to
Greek culture. In the diet, traditions and religious ceremonies of the Greek
Orthodox Church, olive oil plays an integral role. In times past, it was a
source of light, the wood from pruning of the trees a valuable winter fuel.
The presence of an olive tree is an ancient and lasting indicator of
individual property and boundaries. It was, and is for many, life itself. At
what ever cost, the olive harvest and its traditions must be saved.