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Nonno Alessandro, papà Antonio, Zio Carmelo

Nonno Alessandro, papà Antonio, Zio Carmelo

The olive grove has been in our family for centuries.

My parents inherited it in 1972. Before that it belonged to my grandparents, and before that… When I was growing up there were 25 olive trees of the Pisciottana variety. Lovely, large, mature trees with giant canopies. In the summer we loved to sit and watch the birds as they sought shelter from the sun. And that’s how we came to give each one a name, in dialect of course: “a Tamponica” with its large fruits, the erratically growing “a Paccia”, and “Mbucata”, which had burnt twice but somehow managed to survive. There was also a group of 4 trees called “Chiddi attuornu a casa” planted who knows when around the old shed my grandfather had converted into a country “cottage”. “A cacarola” was laden in spring with starlings… and their by-products. They were all my playmates and each had its own name. I always used to say hello to them, and I still do.

At that time the olives were harvested by hand. They were picked up one by one from the ground with a lightening quick movement of the fingers and placed in reed and willow baskets called panari. Twelve panari made up a tumulo, which was and still is the unit used to measure the volume of olives. One tumulo is equivalent to about 42 kilos. I say “about” because the exact weight may vary depending on the plumpness of the olives.

The rest of the farm was given over to pastureland for sheep and goats, making the soil extremely fertile.

I was then just a young kid who found picking olives out in the cold from October to February, getting dirty hands and sore knees in the process, a very tedious task. Today my childhood memories are of living in a beautiful place with my mother and father, who worked tirelessly and passionately to make a success of the farm, investing a lot of their time and money in it… But even so, harvesting the olives produced by each tree still required about 10 hours’ hard work.

The first plastic nets appeared in the 1980s and sped up the job considerably. Harvesting each tree now only took about 2 hours. So my father began planting a lot more trees. He looked into which kind of olives make the best quality oil and chose Leccino and Frantoio cultivars. The plants, known locally as “pasciuni”, were already quite large and more or less the same age as me, twenty-something years old. Today there are 223 of them. The olives produce an oil with the colour of the sun that warms the hill from March to October. After surviving the long, dry summer, crumpling up their leaves to create shade and stop any precious water from evaporating, my old friends “a Paccia”, “a Cacarola” and the others offer up their fruits. When pressed, they yield a liquid bursting with sunshine from the Mediterranean, where this tree is a symbol. The symbol of peace.

Dad, with his typical ingenuity, built a system of hanging nets that prevented the olives from dropping onto the ground, keeping them clean and unbruised. This means the olives can be harvested in about 13 to 15 hours, with the advantage that they can be picked at regular intervals (every 4 to 5 days), and don’t get dirty or damaged (and are kept aerated at the same time). You’ll find that the quality of the oil is excellent.

Dad left us in 2005. In one of our last conversations “sutta a na chianta r’aulivi” (under an olive plant), I promised to carry on playing… with my friends the olive trees.

This is La Barnìa.