Anne's Blog

Olive Harvest: Trying to Beat the Odds

Date: November 11, 2013 - categories: , , - 5 Comments

Anne at work

“Hope we beat the rain!”

It was a race against time this year. We’d hoped to get our olives picked before the predicted rainstorms arrived.

I was up early on Saturday to make an olive harvest lunch for our gatherers, opting for an old favorite of farm women cooking for farmhands at harvest time: il sugo del contadino. “The pasta sauce of the farmer” is a “two-courses-in-one-dish”, serving as both the pasta sauce and second course. (The farm woman has to head for the fields, too – not much time for the cooking).

And of course it has to be tasty, abundant and hardy: an Italian rural cuisine commandment. Beef, sausages and chicken simmer in the sauce – and that meat will be served as the secondo   (see recipe here.)

Pete strips olives off the branches

Pete and Donna strip down the branches

Our olive gatherers arrived just about as I finished the sauce: Peggy and Janet, Joan and Pete (from the US) and Donna and Chris (from England but hoping one day to own a home here in Umbria). Friends Marina and Angelino joined in, too. Our son Keegan, Pino and Angelino handled the olive-picking at the highest points from ladders. They spread nets out below the larger, more heavily-laden trees, stripping the olives off the branches onto the nets below.
The rest of us worked on the smaller trees along the hillside at the back of our house, plastic baskets looped around some waists, others working with buckets on the ground, under the branches. Conversations punctuated with that rhythmic olive-picking “music” I love: swish, swish(as you strip the olives off the branches), plunk, plunk, plunk (as the olives hit the bucket).

Lunchtime pause

Lunchtime pause

Lunchtime pause with Janet and Peggy heading off after lunch. The rest of us worked til dark and then gathered around our dining room table as Pino uncorked the spumante with a triumphant “pop”: we raised our glasses to each other and to good olive-picking weather. The rainstorms had held off.

Postscript: Pino, Keegan, Angelino, Marina and I resumed picking the next morning at 8: 30, hands flying as we raced against the predicted rainstorms. At about 1: 30, the rains came. We’d almost made it: in about two more hours, we’d have finished our olive harvest. Rain predicted for the next few days but we’re hoping for enough of a weather break to finish up: the harvested olives, now in stacked crates, have to get to the mill within three days at the most to avoid fermentation.

Peggy and Donna working on a tree

Peggy and Donna working on a tree

Mille grazie to each of you for joining us in our olive harvest. Donna, thanks for the note you wrote me:

“There are certain dreams one can only dream – and thanks to Anne and Pino, they made a day, olive picking, come true for my husband and I. A warm welcome, exquisite company and great food. Oh…and I just loved their donkeys that brayed on our arrival! Anne and Pino are just delightful to say the least. Anne’s knowledge and understanding of Italian history is not only remarkable but enchanting. She has to write a book! Thank you Anne and Pino for your extended kindness.” Donna V.

Click here for the “sugo del contadino” recipe
Read about a past olive harvest
Read about Umbria’s “open olive mills” celebrations
Read about another memorable olive harvest


  • Karen Kotoske says:

    Jealous! I want to be up in that olive tree too!

  • Stephanie says:

    Oh, what a wonderful experience that must’ ve been! I wish I could’ve been there participating in an ancient practice with Annie & Pino. Only they could add that certain magic and romance to the hard work required in olive harvesting.
    And the meal is making my mouth water, I’ ve been blessed to have enjoyed a delicious meal around their table. Thanks for sharing this “day in the life”. Never pass up an opportunity to share in an authentic experience with Anne!

  • Steph, you HAVE to be here next year for olive harvest-time.
    VA bene?

  • Peggy Mayberry says:

    Everyone should have a bucket list. Mine included “harvest olives in Italy” and it really happened. Not only that but it happened surrounded by great people and was topped off with a typical farmhouse lunch of homemade pasta, roasted meats and great wine. Thank you Anne and Pino for making it happen. The day is right up there at the top of great moments in life. Many thanks!

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