The Olive Harvest
Suggested Wines: Batard, Querciabella (Grapes: Pinot Bianco, Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio); Summus, Banfi (Grapes: Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah)
In the country, for every harvest, whether or olives, grapes, or potatoes there’s una festa di ringraziamento, an Italian style-Thanksgiving celebration. My favorite festa was always the olive harvest, especially in the years when we had our own olive grove at Vipore and produced oil to use in the restaurant for the day, and just like for the vendemmia, the grape harvest, a phalanx of friends and family would show up to help-Piero, Emilio, Renzo, Lido di Bueta, Ezio, Renato di Borchino-each armed with his own basket and burlap sheet. After the ritual 6 A.M. caffe corretto, we’d fan out through the grove and start plucking the olives. Two or three of us would work a tree together, picking and letting the fruits fall onto the burlap, adding them to the basket only when the tree was whistle clean. Sometime after lunch, Mama, her sisters, and I would quit so we could get to the frantoio, the olive press, in Forci to start preparing dinner, traditionally, zuppa alla Frantoiana, a hearty vegetable soup, garlic toast, roasted cod with chick-peas, and steak. The frantoio itself, dating from the seventeenth century, belonged to a local noblewoman, Diamantina Scola Camerini, who was a friend of ours. We cooked there so that the workers who were working late and couldn’t make it home for their own dinners could eat with us.
Baccala, cod, was the traditional food eaten during the olive harvest, which meant il fattore, Armando, the foreman, and all the olive pressmen ate nothing but cod from November to February. To break up the monotony for Armando and his crew, Mama and I would bring some steaks. But me, what I looked forward to, was that first mouthful of new oil. I’d thrust my thick slab of bread right under the spigot, and pop it straight into my mouth, never losing a drop. When I got older, I got another treat, a chaser of the first wine of the season, just a little fizzy and sweet, and the perfect palate cleanser before another shot of oil.