A day of olive picking on island Brač

Olive trees at restaurant on island Brac, Croatia
Olive grove at Kapetanovo Lozje on island Brač

There is a phrase in the Croatian language that says “ko to more platit”. It has steadily become my favorite saying. It’s challenging to translate it directly into English. In the simplest of terms, it means “priceless”. More broadly, it is used to express that something is so special, that it can’t possibly be free. Someone must have to pay for it.

When you’re sitting on a beach in Croatia, gazing out at the islands and the severely blue sea enveloped by tranquility… ko to more platit.

So, let me tell you about what I did this past Saturday…

It was a day I was looking forward to for a long time. There is only one opportunity that comes around each year, and if you miss it, you must wait another 365-ish days before you get another chance. I’ve missed it for the last 7 years running, but not today.

I bounced out of bed at 7:00 ON A SATURDAY, which should tell you from the get-go that I mean business. Got myself presentable and clean then rolled down the cobbles of Senjska street towards Kruščić Bakery for a hot-from-the-oven-baked-with-love rolica od cimeta (aka “cinnamon roll”). If you get the opportunity, EAT IT.

I take the ferry to Supetar, along with a thousand Croatians headed to the island for the long weekend. My dear friend Kelly fetches me right outside the ramp. I hop in and we head straight to Kapetanovo Lozje, a magnificent konoba surrounded by grassy fields, fluffy sheep, and near-century-old olive trees. Kelly and I frequent this spot all summer for the setting and succulent grilled lamb. It’s also home to my favorite octopus salad of the moment.

That day, we were there to pick olives, a tradition across Croatia come October. You are only given a couple of days notice, so you must be ready when the call comes. On the day, the whole country lurches towards the groves. For most, it’s a laborious family obligation for which they have been expected to participate their entire lives, just like grapes and potatoes.

As foreigners, it is not an obligation, but more of a special event. For much of the day, you’re obscured in the canopy, plucking plump olives, doing your best not to drop any. A lost olive represents a lost drop of olive oil, which is practically a crime.

People picking olives on island Brac, Croatia
Our small crew picking olives on island Brač

We chat intermittently while working, then collectively take stretches to enjoy the silence and rustling of branches. A sheep bleats in the distance. An occasional chainsaw trimming the trees breaks it all up.

Late morning calls for a snack of cheese, bread, cured meats, and homemade wine, naravno. More chatting, no urgency. Back to work, filling our saket with fruits. The saket is like a half apron with a large pocket. It’s extremely awkward to walk in when full, but the comedy of bulge bouncing on one’s thighs inspires smiles and dirty jokes.

Olives get dumped into paint pails. Once a pail is full, they are transferred to netted bags. Netted bags are stacked up in a large round vessel, likely used for the grape harvest two months prior.

They get a good soak in Adriatic seawater for 25 days before being pressed into a gloriously viscous oil. I plan to be available and in the vicinity.

Croatian olives soaking in Adriatic seawater
Our harvest soaking in Adriatic seawater

By mid-afternoon, we are called to lunch by Luka, the patriarch’s son. He has prepared peka with lamb and veal – the former raised on the island and the same that inspires our loyalty. We are so entrenched in the pick, we insist on finishing our tree before break time.

We crowd around the wooden table. First comes the wine and Jamnica. Then red peppers marinated in vinegar. Next, a basket of seedy bread. Last comes the peka. We scoot everything aside including our own plates to accommodate its significant real estate needs. Eyes bulge at the sight of roasted meat and caramelized root vegetables wading in a shallow pond of shimmery fat.

And a silence falls over the crowd…

It’s hard not to overeat. It’s so delectably addictive, we can’t help but shovel it all into our faces. Bones are cleaned by sticky fatty fingers. Bread is dipped, dragged, and soaked. It all happens so fast, we nearly blackout.

Captain Miki, our host, insists we finish it even though there is nothing but a small mound remaining. Instead, we chisel the most caramelized bits from the pan’s edges, because they are the best part.

For a while, we marinate in our meat sweats and caress our distended bellies while sipping travarica to ease the pain.

Sara Dyson picking olives in Croatia
Me in the olive trees

Miki and Luka say we may not pick much more. The three of us are determined to match, if not exceed, what was picked the day before so we ignore this.

Pluck, drop, dump, stack, soak. Rinse, repeat.

Miki calls his wife for coffee and so she brings it. We take another pauza. Another chat. Another rub of our bellies.

The triangular Turkish pot, cooked without a lid over the stove, is filled to the brim with gooey, chocolatey coffee. Two quick čašice and I’m super-powered for the final push.

Miki and Luka try to pull us away but we are steadfast in filling the last bag. We make our goal of 200kg, just as much as what a herd of 7 people did the day before. We are satiated.

Sunset beaming through olive trees in Croatia
The sun sets on Kapetanovo Lozje

The sun is setting, beams are flooding the trees, illuminating the destruction left in our wake. The grove is now littered with piles of severed limbs.

We bask in our success. More wine, and now prošek gets added to the mix. We chatter into the night in our bubble on Brač, where Covid and governments and animosity don’t exist. Sometimes we disagree on facts but no one is motivated to look up the answer. The outside world simply doesn’t matter.

Azra, the literal “black” sheep of her family wanders over to hang with us. She attaches immediately to Kelly, beginning her lobby for adoption. She nuzzles and stares and curls up like a dog at her feet, enjoying our revelry.

Well after nightfall, when the moonlight sparkles through the grove and our bodies and minds start screaming for mercy, we call it a night.

Azra bleats and gallops alongside us as we creep towards the car. “Take me with you! Take me with you!” She dances around the car’s perimeter until Miki finally shoos her back into the property.

We slowly thread our way down the narrow one-lane road into the darkness with a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment washing over us and all I can think is “ko to more platit”.

 

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