Olives: From Tree to Table!

“Except the vine, there is no plant which bears a fruit of as great importance as the olive.” – Pliny (AD 23-79)

Following on from my last post……Three days (of intensive olive picking) later, we had ten heavy sacks (weighing approx 450 kilos!) full to the brim with both plump, ripe black olives and smaller, semi-ripe green ones. Some of the choicest olives we kept aside for soaking in brine to be, eventually, eaten whole:

With the rest we were ready to begin the journey up to the olive press on the other side of the island (at Kalivia) to have them pressed into oil.

“Good oil, like good wine, is a gift from the gods. The grape and the olive are among the priceless benefactions of the soil, and were destined, each in its way, to promote the welfare of man.” From ‘Pleasures of the Table’ (1902) by George Ellwanger (1848-1906)

Thankfully I had plenty of help loading the very heavy sacks into the car (Thanks guys!):

while Percy (and friends) looked on, bemused:

It was late last Sunday afternoon and, as chance would have it, it turned out to be the last of the golden peaceful autumn days which had made the laborious work in the olive grove such a magical experience. How lucky were we!

There’s no oil production on Sundays but the olives can be delivered and booked-in for pressing within the next couple of days. We had only to load and name our palette, which was situated amid a rapidly growing sea of others:

before heading back home full of eager anticipation. Anxious to return, I only had two days to wait and on the following Tuesday, I got the chance to record and complete the process of turning our olives into our very first olive oil.


Firstly, our olive sacks were brought to one end of the deafeningly noisy building housing the huge machinery:

where a hastily scribbled rota of names, displayed on the wall was strictly adhered to:


The olives were first emptied into two large, steel, funnel-like containers and sorted and separated from leaves and debris:

as they travelled steeply ‘uphill’ on vibrating conveyor belts:


Then they were tipped into, and passed through,  vats of fast-running water below:


before continuing into  still larger vats. This time  with sharp steel rotating blades. Here they were chopped into small pieces till mashed into a rich dark-brown sludge (resembling tapenade):


Which was then filtered several times:


before it was fed into sealed vats where, under high pressure,  centrifugal force was used to separate the oil from the water (and the water  content was expelled):


The oil which was then filtered again,  one last time

At no point was heat used in the process (hence the term ‘cold pressed’).

Neatly stacked and standing by, was a choice of containers,  either plastic:

or the more traditional 16 kg tins:


I chose the latter and the final product that filled them resembled pure liquid gold.

Our oil, within an hour, was ready!

I’d been warned not to expect too much as, being situated so close to the sea (as we are at Kolios) our olives were unlikely to give much more than a 10% yield of oil –  if that! Olives gathered from trees on higher ground and preferably east-facing can, typically,  yield three or four times as much!. Also, I’d also been told I’d picked a little too early – late November and December are ideal, as oil from early picked olives (i.e. under-ripened) produce far less oil but there is a plus, it will have a longer shelf life and lower acidity* than oil from olives left until fully ripened.

As it turns out, I was absolutely thrilled with the end result: 35 kilos of the finest, pure organic extra virgin, cold press olive oil  – at only 0.2% acidity*!!

What I’d lost in quantity was more than made up for in quality!

*Only oil with under 1.5% acidity can be classed as ‘extra virgin’

Returning home with my precious cargo, I couldn’t wait to taste it.

“The whole Mediterranean, the sculpture, the palm, the gold beads, the bearded heroes, the wine, the ideas, the ships, the moonlight, the winged gorgons, the bronze men, the philosophers – all of it seems to rise in the sour, pungent taste of these black olives between the teeth. A taste older than meat, older than wine. A taste as old as cold water.” – Lawrence Durrell (1912-1990) ‘Prospero’s Cell’ (1945)

It was amazing! I don’t believe I’ve ever tasted such fresh pure oil. I closed my eyes and from the moment it hit my tongue I could taste/smell a completely familiar aroma; that of my whole garden! It’s the smell I wake up to every morning and which, by late afternoon in the warm sun,  intensifies to such a degree that you feel a heady dizziness: it’s the the smell of fresh grass, mingled with pine, fig, bay, oregano, rosemary….and even a hint of salty sea air. It was quite astonishing! Somehow they were all infused into this glorious golden liquid that completely filled the senses as it ran smoothly down my throat.

Now, with some of it already bottled and labelled, I can return to London knowing that whenever the grey winter city skies overwhelm me with a longing to return, I only have to take a sip to be instantly transported back to my island paradise….Yes, truly, it’s not just olive oil, it’s Skiathos (or more specifically, ‘Villa Nicara’) in a bottle! Its worth every one of the sore, aching muscles and calloused hands….. a million times over……..and  THAT”S what I call magic!

‘Olive Tree’ an original painting in oil on canvas

© Yvonne Ayoub 2009. All rights reserved

“Always observe how ephemeral and worthless human things are. Pass then through this little space of time conformably to nature, and end thy journey in content, just as an olive falls off when it is ripe, blessing nature who produced it, and thanking the tree on which it grew.”Marcus Aurelius

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If you would like to know more about olive oil, it’s healing properties, its production and just about everything else there is to know about olives, you can visit these very comprehensive sites:

http://www.emeraldworld.net/olive.html (includes book list for further reading)
For herbal remedies (using the olive leaf, bark and fruit) and much more, visit:

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