How to Pick a Sicilian Olive

October 14, 2013

Ponies a-prancin’; olives a-dancin’.

That’s how it is this time of year in Sicily.

Horses in Sicilian Field, copyright Jann HuizengaThrow down that net and let’s get busy. There’s a bumper crop. The limbs surge with bounty.

Harvesting Olives in Sicily,copyright Jann Huizenga

You can do it by hand.

Harvesting Olives by Hand in Sicily, copyright Jann Huizenga

Or use a big red comb.

Harvesting Olives in Sicily, copyright Jann Huizenga

Or a motorizedย gadget, sort of like a fan on a heavy long pole.

Harvesting Olives in Sicily, copyright Jann Huizenga

Olives bounce everywhere, along with an avalanche of twigs and leaves.

“Could we do this?” I ask the olive pickers, pointing to Diana (whose trees these are) and myself.

They laugh at the idea. “You have to be strong, signora.” They flex their muscles, just in case we don’t get it.

Harvesting Olives in Sicily, copyright Jann Huizenga

The men wrestle the whole back-breaking mess into the tractor and hurry to the olive press, which is heavy with the scent of hot sun and bitter soil. Total haul: 570 kilos of olives.

Nearly three hours later, after the olives are washed and thrashed and mashed and milled, out gushes the good stuff, a thick ribbon of green velvet.

At the Olive Press in Sicily, copyright Jann Huizenga

We sip it from paper cups and taste all of Sicily: it’s like fresh-cut country grass still wet with morning dew, squeezed with sweet lemons and spattered with peppercorns.


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67 comments to How to Pick a Sicilian Olive

  • Jann this is glorious – I can smell the oil from Sydney! We used the same process every winter in Crete where I lived for nearly 10 years – brings back such happy memories. I just love the thick green oil – nothing like it in the world! So glad I stumbled on you! F

    • Jann

      Ciao Francesca, thank you so much for you lovely comment and welcome to this blog. Oh, I envy your 10 years in Crete!

  • Katie

    Hey Jann,
    It was the same in our little village last week. I will never forget the smell of the big room where the olives were being pressed, because that smell was better than autumn leaves, a turkey in the oven or fresh cut grass. It was everything that Sicily is, and more. The local villagers probably thought I was a crazy person, as I was literally teared up seeing the whole operation.
    Hope to see you soon, bring your camera ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Jann

      Katie, how cool that you got to witness the whole process. Cute that you almost cried, but there is something so ancient in the ritual, and it is very moving–especially to see how the Sicilians venerate their olives and their oil. xxxxxxx back

  • CallieCat52

    Oh, how I miss the olive oil from the commune in Motta Sant’ Anastasia! We would get the oil in cleaned out 2 litre pop bottles. Our padrone’ de casa taught me how to pick olives and brine them, too.

    • Jann

      Oh, Callie–I would love to learn how to brine olives. Come show me how! It’s really nice to use oil that comes from your backyard, isn’t it??

  • Marian

    Jann, I had to come back again and look at your wonderful photo story. I can now again “taste” the wonderful oil in your last photo.

  • Looks like a bumper crop, Jann!!

    • Jann

      Yes, they’re everywhere you look! And so many “wild” olive trees that are full and that no one is picking. ๐Ÿ™

  • It looks incredible, and sounds amazing. Great to see what goes on behind the scenes of Pick a Sicilian Olive.
    The colour at the end result is so very bright! Incredible description of what it looks and taste like ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Brilliant I feel like I’m right with you and your gorgeous ponies x
    Just testing my muscles ….hmmmm

  • John Schinina

    Ciao Jann, I can smell the grass and the Olives in your photo of the Horses in the Grove. Where is that farm? Is it close to Ragusa, its so beautiful. Jann, you are exploding with talent.

    • Jann

      ๐Ÿ™‚ John, you’re my ultimate cheerleader. Thanks for being so sweet. The farm is up the mountain about 30 mins from Ibla.

  • Wow! How delightful, the tree with its net and the ladders and the horses. I’d love to drink a cup of that oil xx

    • Jann

      It’s liquid gold, Solid Gold, and you’d absolutely love it. A small cup a day keeps the doctor away, the Sicilians believe.

  • vicki carol

    I Felt I was there. wonderful photos.

  • cemal karahan

    Wonderful definition of how to get the olive oil we use, Jann. You have written so simple and poetically and explanotary. Thanks…!

  • John in Fiji

    Thanks for the wonderful photos and story Jann. I’ve got a huge smile on my face and counting the days, almost hours until I can taste that oil. Thanks also for the wonderful photo of Diana you sent ๐Ÿ™‚ A presto, Baci e abbracci!

  • Toni

    I love your photos and the story to go with it. My grandfather had olive trees Sicily, but I never got to see them ๐Ÿ™ Keep up the great work! Ciao!

    • Jann

      Thank you Toni. Such a sweet comment. It’s amazing how people here feel like their olive trees are part of their souls. Very attached.

  • Green velvet….how perfect Jann. I could smell, almost taste that beautiful piccante oil from my desk. Enjoy your next drop for me! xo

  • Aida

    Well jann can you start a cottage industry, and send us that liquid gold…all of us are willing to pay! We know that some of the
    Fancy olive oil we buy in the states is not all real olive oil….
    Love their hafflinger horses…great horse to ride but is used as a work horse in italy…..ciao!

    • Jann

      Well, Aida, thank you for the biz idea, which I will pass along to my friends who actually own trees. xxxxxxbaci

  • to smell, to taste, to feel ….what a joy to experience this gift from Mother Nature…

  • jan walcott


    This is such a beautiful set of photos, and as others have noted, you can almost smell and taste the lovely green liquid gleaned from the trees. Something I want to experience firsthand maybe next year!!!

    • Jann

      Jan, let me know if you can make it next year for olive harvest. We can do it together and/or I can put you in touch with people who host guests for the olive harvest. Go home with the oil from the olives you have picked. xxxx

  • Great post Jann…Have new blog and in the transfer from Blogger to WordPress have lost formatting, size of print, followers, comments etc but when OK will make a link from one of my posts about olives to this fabulous post about picking olives.Both photos and story are superb.

    • Jann

      Oh my goodness, Marisa. Sorry you lost all that stuff transferring to WordPress. Ouch ouch ouch. ๐Ÿ™

  • this is wonderful + yummy!

  • OMGosh, A real Olive Tree!

    Love this sentence: โ€œYou have to be strong, signora.โ€ They flex their muscles, just in case we donโ€™t get it.***

    Wonderful. Love flowing to you, sweet dear Jann. xx

  • Angelo Milo

    Now that was a description to behold. It was like being there!

  • OMGoodness! I can smell the freshness. I was so very sad when all of the olive oil I brought back from Rome was gone. Nothing better than the fresh stuff. The photos are so vibrant that I can smell the goodness. Thanks so much. You rock, girl!

  • Stefanie in Oregon

    Your blog is fantastic – Thanks for sharing so we can have a little “drop” of Sicily too!

    • Jann

      Ciao Stefanie–how are you both??? Thank you for stopping by the blog. I have SUCH good memories of you in SF. xxxxbaci

  • I “adopted” a couple of trees from several years ago and they send me olive oil from the trees (or area near) twice a year. I love, love, love the fresh olive oil and the particular flavor I have – piantone di Mogliano. Love seeing how it’s done.

  • I love the story, as well as the photos!

  • ria

    The pictures are amazing Jann. I feel like dunking the bread into the olive oil picture. Yumm….

  • Nancy

    On one trip to Italy we stopped at an agriturismo in Tuscany. The woman gave us a shot glass of olive oil to taste. We thought she was nuts expecting us to drink it. But being polite, we took a sip. Needless to say, we emptied that shot glass. Sooo good. Yum

    • Jann

      Nancy, this made me laugh! And I remembered the time when my husband and I went into a little shop, and they had some samples out on tables, and my husband took a glass and whispered to me, “This is the oiliest wine I’ve ever tasted!” Of course it was oil.

  • Jan, your photo with the horses in the grove is fantastic.

  • Cathy

    MMMMMMM… I can almost taste the warm sunshine looking at this…

    • Jann

      Ciao Cathy dearest! You’ll be glad to know it’s still summertime in Sicily. Warm warm warm. I’m dying to get out my sweaters.

  • Oh my God! That’s all that I can utter right now. OMG

  • Bonnie

    Oh, how I long to return to Sicily!!! It’s only been 1 year ago that I visited, but I talk about it often. Each story you publish, just melts my heart!

    Thank you Jann!

  • Marian

    Jann, this is soooooo beautiful. I have been wondering how long I would have to wait for Sicilian olive oil from this year’s crop!

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