Spreading green netting round the base of the tree to catch the falling olives we beat the olive tree branches with staves as the ripe olives plopped onto the ground. Higher up the slope we could hear the rhythmic swish of sticks as our workmates invisible amongst the 250 year old trees alternately shook and beat the branches dripping with olives. Our eyes sharpened to distinguish the black fruit amongst the foliage and our fingers grew defter as we plucked the olives dropping them into our baskets before filling hessian sacks with the precious harvest. Incredibly in mid January high above the Costa del Sol in southern Andalucía the temperature was superb and we were soon in shirtsleeves as we systematically stripped our trees.
The fragrance of coffee prepared on a wood fire burning olive wood cuttings drew us together to compare notes on the colour of the olives picked from the trees and gathered from the ground. All of us appreciated the magic of the olive, and the golden liquid that it would yield and which would flow from the fruit that we held in our hands. We were all devotees of pan Catalán, two halves of a toasted whole meal roll with a smear of fresh tomato juice on each half and our precious olive oil dripped onto the warm bread.
Climbing the trees to hand pick the highest olives was an exhilarating experience. Looking out from between the tree tops over the rolling Sierra de las Nieves mountains towards the white villages of Tolox and Yunquera the olives fell steadily away from the branches into the basket pulled high into the tree. Lunch followed all too soon, delicious fresh salad with avocado and mustard dressing and olive oil of course with rice and barbecued chicken all cooked over the bed of coals. Home made apple pie with coffee to round off. Food is a vital part of any day in the country in Andalucía and we followed tradition to the letter.
Now slightly stiff after our open air lunch we loaded up the 10 sacks of olives we had picked and set off for the co-operative olive mill below us in Monda. The conveyor belts were silent, a roller bearing had broken and even as we waited a stream of pick ups, family cars and trucks arrived at the end of the day, all bearing their precious cargo to be pressed into the olive oil that has made Andalucía famous as an olive producing area. Our harvest this year would be pressed along with the other sacks brought in today. Five different varieties of olive go into the making of the cold pressed virgin olive oil from the Mudéjar mill in Monda giving the oil a slightly sweeter and highly palatable taste compared to the more acidic olive oils from the Cordoba and Jaen grove to the north of the Málaga province.
If you would like to join Teresa for the full experience of picking olives on her finca one weekend during the olive picking season between October and January of each year, write in to gomarbella using the comment form below the blog. See you there!