Friday, November 12, 2010

Olivistas to the Table! Soup's On

If you look closely, you can see the olives silhouetted against the sky
6 am. CET, Via Palombaro, Umbria
      The countdown started 364 days ago when the last pickers left to go home to England, Germany, the US, Namibia and the Netherlands. Tomorrow ten friends from around the world will come for our fourth olive picking house party. We call them the Olivistas.
     We've spent this week in preparation. Since I am dealing with a demonic case of jetlag, having arrived from the States three days ago, I have been in the kitchen by five every morning, chopping onions for a soffritto that will form the base of one of the five soups we will have for lunch during the harvest. I am partially cooking each one before freezing it; mixed aromas emanate from various pots, wafting warm jetstreams of onions, rosemary, sage, and porcini throughout the house. There is also the scent of fig bread baking in the oven, making for a confusing cinnamon/onion olfactory experience.
    The Olivistas provide the manual labor to pick our 120 trees and we want them to be glad they came.  Even if it's a chance to get away from the daily routine of office/patients/computers/grocery store, picking olives is hard work. When the sun shines across the valleys, highlighting the autumn red Sagrantino vines stretching across the fields, it can be glorious. If it's damp and misty, it can be romantic (sort of), provided one is dressed for it. But, if it rains, it's just awful.
     This is when a steaming boil of farro, lentil, ceci (chickpea) or minestrone soup can provide the inspiration to get us back in the trees. We sit around the kitchen table, warmed by the fireplace, the soup, Omero's wine (sold by the liter from a kind of gas pump), and the conversation of friends who come back year after year to help us get in the harvest.
     Il Magnifico's job as host is to be the supreme organizer. He makes sure there are enough crates, baskets, nets, and hand rakes -- we pick our olives the old fashioned way. He books the restaurants for dinner (the promise of a traditional Umbrian meal gets us all through the day), makes the grocery runs and the emergency trips to Omero to replenish the vital red liquid. Of course, he has reserved our slot at the frantoio, where we will gather next Friday morning to turn our harvest into "Olivista Olive Oil," extra virgin, first cold press.
     But, now we are watching the stove and the sky. We try to organize everything, but are powerless to affect the weather. Yesterday started with sun, then turned to rain and hail, then recovered itself with a spectacular rainbow. The meteorologists say it will be sunny through Monday and then will rain Tuesday and Wednesday. We need at least three full days to pick, so rain on those two days will be a problem. I keep checking the iPhone weather app for those little sunny yellow symbols. Our guests are here for the week, so if necessary they will pick on Thursday and we will go wine tasting, sightseeing or shopping if it rains on a picking day. Or, we might even enjoy the delights of dolce far niente, the "sweet doing nothing," in the Umbrian countryside.
A wide angle wasn't wide enough
     The last pot of soup is on the boil and the slowly dissolving stars promise a sunny day. The birds are singing as the sky starts to lighten. The olives hang dark on the trees, waiting for tomorrow.
Copyright 2010 Sharri Whiting

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