Right after the conclusion of the grape harvest, olive picking begins in Croatia, typically in mid to late October. Families all over the country are called to the orchards to harvest the olives, the majority of which will be pressed into olive oil. The olive oil extracted from the olives will be shared within the extended family and used throughout the year.
This year, I was invited to pick olives with a family in Klis. Of course, I not-so-subtly lobbied for months to be a part of event. They thought I was doing them a favor. I was overjoyed that they’d let me participate. They’ve been doing this for generations. The only olives I’ve ever picked were from a jar. The cultural divide was more than apparent.
The weather is typically cold and rainy this time of year, which never holds up the olive harvest. Even then, the family gathers in the rain to pick the olives while they are at their peak of ripeness. They may not be happy about it, but it’s gotta be done or the olives go to waste.
This year there was unprecedented sunshine. San Diego could not have asked for a more gorgeous day. This only fueled my excitement for the harvest, while I drowned in the delusion that every year would be this beautiful.
The family welcomed us with open arms, immediately filling us with a harvest lunch of cured meats, cheeses, marinated peppers, cakes, cookies, and lots of homemade wine before even one olive was plucked from a tree. We dined below the olive trees, while sunlight streamed through the thick foliage in short bursts and beams. After lunch, I was fully prepared to let the 3 glasses of gemišt in my belly lull me into a siesta, but it was time to work.
Throughout the orchard, kids and moms were hidden high up the trees picking the highest clusters. We combed the trees, scavenging for every last olive. Every so often, we’d break for another glass of wine or a coffee and oatmeal cookies. There was no turning down their gracious hospitality. And honestly, why would you want to?
Before I forget, I will warn you not to eat a raw olive. It’s gross. Like, so gross that you can’t get the taste out of your mouth for a long time. Let the professionals brine it first.
After all the olive picking, the families take the olives to be pressed into olive oil. At this time of year, the olive oil mills work around the clock. Reservations are made in advance. The family was booked to have their olives pressed at 10:00pm on a Sunday night. That’s dedication.
Hopefully my labor has earned me a bottle or two.