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Posts Tagged ‘olives’

Yesterday we got up early (for a Saturday), filled the car with essentials, and headed off, out of the city and up the valley where the Hutt River skirts the highway, its willows rapidly losing all their leaves, into the countryside. It was a gloomy, dark morning, and the rain that was forecast later in the day seemed to have arrived early – it was light, almost misty, and we hoped it would be different at our destination.

We passed the tempting $10 Breakfast sign at the café at the bottom of the hill, tempted to stop for bacon and eggs and a decent coffee, thinking about texting our friends to say we might just be half an hour late. But we didn’t, and we drove up into the winding Rimutakas, up into the cloud, and then dropped back into the Wairarapa beyond, a bit perturbed to find that the weather was no better, and maybe even worse.

We arrived at Alders, site of previous adventures in better weather, where we were due to help our friends harvest their olives. The sight of Peony and her bedraggled sister, both soaked through, supported my decision to bring my bought-for-Iceland-and-previously-only-ever-worn-there rain pants, grateful for my bought-for-Iceland-but-perfect-in many-places fleece and rain jacket, and pleased that my husband had thought to bring our gumboots (and later even more pleased he unwittingly gave me the pair without the hole in the sole).

Our hosts/overseers had thoughtfully provided gloves and plenty of purpose-bought rakes that easily strip the olives from the branches, and we stuck into the work, getting wet not so much from the rain which eased off and just turned to mist, but from the very wet olive trees, and only slightly hampered by steamed-up glasses. With a very efficient crew of workers this year, and even though the trees are so much bigger than when we first went about seven or eight years ago, it was only a few quick hours later that we were told they had enough olives (8-900 kgs or a ton), and sodden, we retreated back to the house to dry off, grateful for the wine, hearty lunch of Indian dahls and curries, and cheerful conversation after a job well done.

Previous olive harvest posts here and here.

 

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Just four days after my drive through Canterbury, my husband and I climbed in our car for another drive, this time over the hill but not so far away, just a little more than an hour really, though it was probably less as we had stopped in Petone for a Subway sandwich by the beach, foolishly thinking it would be quicker than making a sandwich at home, so it was really only 45 minutes from the foreshore with its view of the blue harbour on a warm spring day until we arrived in Martinborough, over the Rimutaka hills and their winding sometimes scary (but safer these days with the new highway) roads steeply up then down, through drowsy little Featherston, along the green plains and down into Martinborough, a charming wine village that was quite literally blooming with spring, with kowhai and cherry blossoms and rhododendrons in full colour, exuberant and joyful at the prospect of the coming summer; a wine village that is home to my friend Peony and her husband, (and various other members of her family who have followed her pilgrimage there) and to their olive grove and charming cottage and lavender and croquet lawn and quince trees in full flower, and their separate guest accommodation, thankfully not rented out this weekend but reserved for us, so we could go wine-tasting without fear at Palliser and Cabbage Tree and Martinborough Wines – where Craig last year bought a $70 bottle of pinot noir that he probably should have cellared for several years but couldn’t really (because of the flight home to Florida) so we drank it that night with Hells’ pizza – and on to Tirohana wines where we had tired of tasting and wanted simply to drink, so the chef whipped up a platter of cheeses to accompany a bottle of rosé and we sat on the terrace in the late afternoon sun before heading back to the cottage (though first we gate-crashed Peony’s sister to see her soon-to-be world-famous-in-New Zealand eco-house, completely off-the-grid and sustainable but with interesting modern design and a wine cellar to die for and a fabulous, drool-inducing chef’s kitchen, which is appropriate because the man of the house is a talented chef) where it was time to roast the lamb and ice the chocolate cake and drink some champagne and nibble on the sourdough bread dipped in olive oil made from the olives only metres from us, before eating the said meal and consuming more of the said champagne, and some delicious pinot noir we had bought earlier in the afternoon, and a nice nine-year-old syrah from the Gimblett Gravels about four hours up the road, and finally finishing the evening by looking at their inspiring photos (requested by us, not imposed by them I must stress) of their Peru trip earlier in the year (where I now really want to go though I will need to brush up on my Spanish) before collapsing into a warm and comfortable bed, exhausted by the talking but mostly by all that wine, where we quickly fell asleep, only slightly and ever-so-briefly unnerved by the complete and utter silence outside.

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Three years ago a friend and I were walking in the hills behind Portofino. I blogged about it on Mali’s Travelalphablog.

It was a steep climb behind Portofino, and the path, or more accurately the stairway, wound behind many houses. … At the top of the climb the landscape flattened, and we enjoyed magnificent views north along the Italian Riviera, and south to La Spezia. We walked through ancient olive trees, and saw some equally ancient Italian locals gathering the olives that had fallen from the trees, as they and their ancestors had done, no doubt, for hundreds of years.

For generations, families and communities have come together in the harvest. Working communally shares the load, completes a long task more quickly, and makes a laborious task more enjoyable. Living in a city, we don’t see this in the same way these days now, but as a child I remember neighbours and relatives joining together to help with the wheat harvest, or in working with the sheep. I remember the feeling of being part of something bigger, the laughter as we ate together, the relief when the job was done.

Last weekend, we responded to the call of Peony and Mr Peony, and along with members of her family, workmates, friends, and soccer team-mates, we converged on their property in Martinborough. Not too many years ago this area was full of sheep and dairy farms. Now the fields are filled with grapevines, producing extraordinary pinot noir, and sauvignon. And smaller plots are covered with olives. Which is why we made the trip over the hill – to help with their olive harvest. It was a social event, meeting new people as four or five of us at a time worked on a single tree. We stripped the tree of its olives, poured them into the bins, and moved on to a different tree, with different people.

The weather was perfect for the job at hand. Clouds hung low, but the rain stayed away, there was no wind, and the temperature was neither too hot nor too cold. At about 2 pm the gong sounded and lunch was served. We sat outside around a long table, resting gratefully in camping chairs and on the deck steps. After a busy morning filled with activity, lunch was welcome. We enjoyed lunch without guilt – untraditionally eating chili and rice and sangria (our hosts/slave-drivers had recently returned from Mexico) – and ate heartily. And I thought of those wizened old villagers and their forebears enjoying their lunches in the hills of Liguria after the olive harvest, now, three years ago, thirty years ago, three hundred years ago. Times change, but then again, not so much.

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