Olive time


Olives ready for picking

Nothing is quite like the smell of olive oil as its aroma is released, or the flavour of it hitting tastebuds after being drizzled on food. Both capture more than a hint of the green of spring, the gold of summer, the terracotta of autumn in lands warmer than Scotland. Olive oil is a hit of the Med that sends senses reeling.

Olive country

Olive country – Tuscan olive groves

Tuscany. Late October. Olive picking time. In the fields of the Tuscan countryside nets are spread between trees to catch the precious fruit as a mechanical arm shakes tree after tree to send leaves jigging and dislodge the bounty.

Ripening olives

The wonderful colour of ripening olives. You can almost taste them, smell the oil.

In numerous gardens and smallholdings the process is similar though more manual. A cloth is spread on the ground then olives are quite simply picked and dropped into a container, the cloth catching any that inadvertently fall.

Olive picking

The serious job of olive picking.

Pierluigi, our host, bustled across the grass one morning and spread a cloth on the ground beneath his largest olive tree, or to be accurate his mother’s largest olive tree. Its olives were at different stages of ripeness, green, black and that khaki inbetween colour. Just the variation that was wanted for eating olives he assured us. The other smaller trees boasted larger olives, green and succulent looking, but all were bitter to the taste. Olives, it appears, need to undergo a magic process to turn them into compulsive nibbles.

Picking olives

Olive picking in Tuscany, done by hand in many gardens and smallholdings.

Olives destined for pressing into oil are, according to Pierluigi, not ready for picking until mid November, so still a few weeks of anxious weather watching before the harvest. Interestingly, we met a guy in Lucca’s botanic garden, an Australian who described himself as an olive oil organoleptic assessor and judge, a member of the Australian Olive Oil Sensory Panel. In his view mid November was too late for picking, affecting the quality of the resultant oil. So a line of dispute exists between tradition and science, between old world and new.

Empty container

A hard day of picking ahead, though it’s sunny and warm.

The magic process, we asked Pierluigi about it. He was vague. He just picked the olives. Mother had the magic wand. But he undertook to ask her. Husband did a bit of Googling. That indicated a long drawn out complicated process. But no, intelligence from Mother via Pierluigi indicated washing before steeping the olives for five days, changing the water every day. Then, prior to heating, they were packed in jars with…ingredients. What ingredients? Various ones. Salt? Yes, salt and…other things.

Nearly full container

Getting there…so time for another rest.


Picker on ladder

A rather peculiar, triangular shaped, three legged ladder being used for picking. With only one leg at the back it seemed extremely precarious, but perhaps it makes it easier to get in about the tree and the fruit.










The impression was of closely guarded family secrets. We could imagine every Tuscan matron packing her olive jars with herbs and spices, the specific ones and the exact quantities for the best favour having been passed down from mother to daughters over thousands of generations. A bit like the bottle of Drambuie we had taken as a present.

Three legged ladder

The three legged ladder



Come back next year and you can taste them, we were urged. Sounds good, though maybe we should take a course in organoleptic olive assessing in the meantime.





Wooden sign

Doesn’t mention olives, but we loved the distinctive way this shop advertised what it sold.

Delicatessen in Tuscany

Now this is our kind of shop!







About jingsandthings

I am me. What do I like? Colour Shapes Textures Paintings, photographs, sculptures, woven tapestries, wonderful materials. The love of materials probably comes from my father who was a textile buyer, and I grew up hearing the names of mills and manufacturers which sounded magical and enticing. Glass in all its soft and vibrant colours and flowing shapes, even sixties glass which makes its own proud statement. A book I can immerse myself in. Meals with family or friends with lots of chat and laughter (and probably a bottle or two of wine). The occasional trip abroad to experience the sights, sounds, food, conversation, quality of light and warmth of other countries. To revel in differences and be amazed by similarities. I like to create and to experience, to try and to achieve. And then there are words – read, heard, written at my keyboard, or scrawled on sticky notes, or along the edges of dog-eared supermarket receipts excavated from the unexplored nooks of my handbag. What do I dislike? Cold Snow Bad design Fast food Condescension
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12 Responses to Olive time

  1. mamacormier says:

    I went to an olive oil tasting party this time last year. Sometimes the differences in flavour were very subtle and other times quite distinctive. Nothing compares to actually being there. I can’t wait till we visit Tuscany.

    • Can’t help feeling olive oil tasting might be more appealing with a glass of wine alongside. The one to counteract the other. Tuscany is lovely. Traditional. Little changing I suspect. probably heresy to say so but I felt it lacked the quirkiness and colour of the eastern Algarve with its houses clad in tiles of bright colours and intricate designs. And it lacked the creative oooomph of Tallinn where colours and creativity swirl around the old houses and squares so redolent of the days of the Hanseatic League. But I suppose Tuscany has gravitas, especially in Florence’s old town with its stunning buildings and fabulous boutique-style shops selling enormously expensive items.

  2. Ahhh, nothing compares to Italian olives!

  3. mybrightlife says:

    Olives are a permanent feature in our kitchen but not grown in our area – but I remember huge barrels in back-street stores in Greece and a few years back a local green grocer brought them in, but I was too slow to get stuck in with the rinse and salt process and when I returned they had all been snapped up, Never seen them in their raw form again, but keep looking… this was such an interesting read. Thank you!

    • I have a very large jar of Greek olives in the fridge at present. Beautiful big green ones, without stones. The preservation process sounds fun. but it might become a bit of a chore. Living in Scotland I’ve no choice but to buy them ready to eat.

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