On Cloud Nine – Picking olives

As Tuscany slid rapidly from a ‘Yellow’ low risk Covid 19 region to ‘Orange’ and then ‘Red high risk’ within in a week I was lucky to be able to still pick olives. It’s time for the new Olive Oil – strictly Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Sieve valley under cloud

Sieve valley under cloud

In fact am on Cloud Nine‘ as you can see in the photo. The Sieve valley area completely encased in cloud while we were lucky happily above it all and ready to start by 9.30am. If the property was down in the valley pickers would be unable to start till very late morning as the olives are still damp from the fog and low clouds.The riding school next door amongst the clouds

This year I was picking in an area above Rufina  about 35kms East  from Florence.

Being now in a Red region lockdown travel is only allowed outside of our Council area for work, health or necessity reasons and with a permit. Fortunately Tuscany decreed that only families (not friends) could continue to pick olives on private farms. So it was just as well I could still be included as family even as an ‘ex-wife‘ and continue the tradition of picking which I love so much. Olive pickers in action

In two days of picking, 4 hand pickers and one with a machine we managed to pick  27 crates.  Each crate holds around 24kgs of Olives and on average you need 5-6kg of olives for a litre of extra virgin olive oil. Some trees can produce up to 2 crates, sometimes more, depending on the season and the variety of olives. This year the trees are beautifully healthy, no nasty bugs like last year and laden with wholesome olives. A delight to feel between the fingers.

Temperatures have dropped to cold mornings, around 3-4°C but we have been lucky to have sunshine, and dragging out olive nets, shifting ladders and picking, warms you up pretty quickly. By lunchtime we were soaking up a warm 14-15°C as we ate sausages, oops they ate sausages from the BBQ and I feasted on my veggie pie and of course Fettunta toasted bread with the new oil drizzled on.

At the end of the day we tally up the crates and congratulate ourselves on a good day’s Tow days picking 27 olive crateswork.

On the rainy days we don’t pick so the picking has spread over 3 weeks. We have been to the mill three times already and the last time was last Sunday.

Covid 19 has put pressure on the normal mill activities as many panicked thinking lockdown may limit the possibility of picking so started earlier than usual. And many inundated the mill with more olives than what they had booked in so the mills were often running behind schedule. Our last picking in fact had to be slowed down to accommodate a late booking at the mill, unable to accommodate us earlier. Still it was worth it as the local mill – La Corte uses upmarket equipment in slicer/crushers, temperature control  thus producing a healthier extra virgin olive oil which tastes fantastic….especially if you have picked and crushed immediately after two or three days of picking.

The old wheel grinders of the past are still used in some Mills but the contamination between each producers olives is a high risk as the paste spreads out onto mats to be pressed. You can see that process here.

The information printed on my tin of oil describes its fabulous Nutritional characteristics, and together with its gorgeous green colour and just a touch spicy in flavour when its freshly pressed is why Extra Virgin Olive Oil remains such a part of our daily diet. And love it!

My gloves

 

My new gloves show the signs of the picking and now it’s back into Covid 19 lockdown….who knows for how long? With a possibility of relaxing restrictions 4 December to allow Christmas shopping!Sunset at the end of a day's work

 

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A lockdown that’s not a lockdown

Ponte Vecchio, FlorenceItaly is now in a lockdown that’s not a lockdown, at least not in every Region. And there will be no more singing from the balconies this time! Heavy restrictions continue as Covid 19 numbers explode and medical staff fear it will turn into a Tsnunami. We face a long grim winter ahead and people’s moods have definitely changed as we have absorbed a wealth of information about Covid 19, together with about the same fake news turning many into denial.

The economic situation has never been easy since the GFC of which Italy never fully recovered and the ordinary citizen is finding it difficult to make ends meet. While financial assistance has been offered by the government it hardly covers the losses incurred in businesses. Work continues, often at home what we call ‘smart working’, and factories and retail stores remain open in ‘Moderate Alert ‘ Regions. Hardest hit are restaurants and bars, those involved in the tourist industry, while gyms, fairs, congresses, theatres, cinemas closed at the end of October and museums now at the beginning of November. Even for those still open – retail shops, hairdressers, beauty centres etc are suffering anyway as there is little money circulating and many had spent a lot on readapting their premises with plexiglass, disinfectants, temperature measuring gadgets and various social distancing measures.

Kids have suffered enormously after being relegated to home for 6 months and greeted the new year starting in September with enthusiasm. Now many, especially the teenagers are again back home doing lessons online.

Our public transport system on the reopening could hardly cope with social distancing and reduced clientele, creating swarms of students on buses to and from school and likewise with workers having little option but public transport for their return to work.

Testing has highlighted an enormous quantity of non symptomatic cases, still potentially contagious yet living in small houses/apartments makes self quarantine from the rest of the family not always possible and the virus spread.

Florence bookshopHardest hit have been the regions with the highest density of populations in cities and strained hospital services – Lombardy – Milan, Piedmont -Turin, Campania – Naples, Calabria – Catanzaro. As well as regions in the Alps – Valle D’Aosta,  which initially had a major flow of tourists eager to participate in the snow season. Most of these regions now are considered High Risk areas and have a total lockdown to ensure no entry or exit from the regions apart from work or health motives, and only essential shops remain open. Bookshops unexpectedly have been exempted from closure!. Campania for some reason was classified in the ‘Yellow/Moderate Regional list and their “flame throwing” regional president De Luca is definitely not happy about that having pleaded for a lockdown for the past month. However  Regional classifications towards a lockdown can now become automatic  when their hospital capacity is reduced to a critical level and other health criteria. ‘Orange/Medium to High alert’ regions for now are  Puglia and Sicily which means limited entrance and exit from those regions and other restrictions. All the remaining Regions are considered ‘Moderate Risk”

All I can say is that many are unhappy with the new restrictions. We are learning to live with the virus and strongly advised to limit our contacts and visits to those outside of our families where possible and have a National curfew from 10pm to 5am.

We definitely partied in the Summer and rejoiced at the freedom, and I guess we pay the consequences now. Europe is so interconnected it was difficult to remain in isolation. I was certainly surprised to find two Swiss tourists in my little village in the Cinque Terre in November, wanting to enjoy a quiet holiday, and a bus load of Germans from a Cruise ship doing the same! Italian cruise ships are now stopped and foreign cruise ships will not be allowed to disembark.

It does make my blogging difficult as I would like to continue to show you all the beauty of this wonderful country, be it an exhibition or a delightful place to visit but in these times I am limited to what I can see and do despite being in the ‘Moderate’ classified Region of Tuscany. At least I am surrounded by beautiful Autumn colours.Autumn vineyards Tuscany

For those of you enjoying your new freedom from lockdown, I admit I am jealous yet hope you make the most of it with the appropriate caution. We will come out of it in the end, hopefully with not too much ‘collateral damage’.

Stay safe!

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