13 Feb

Picking olives in Kandanos, Crete

by Vassilis Gialamaraki,
Images by Jonxyz/scullywho/Kjersten

Olive trees are an integral part of the Cretan landscape and a source of life and health to Cretans, symbolizing peace and fertility. So, on a sunny Sunday in January we went out to pick olives. My mother, Katharina, had planned this day for a long time. We were invited to pick olives at Eytyxis Daskalakis’s, a good friend of the family, but we were determined to go first to the beautiful village of Kandanos because that’s where the best table olives come from.

When we arrived after a breathtaking drive seeing snow-covered mountains, we were shown to an old olive orchard with huge trees and netting laid under them. These trees were very old and their trunks looked more like monuments from another era rather than parts of someone’s producing crop.  Mind you, in the village of Kandanos you will find a huge olive tree, like the famous one in Vouves, God knows how old this one is. It takes four men to encircle its trunk, which is about 12 metres in perimeter. It produces about 50 kilos of olive oil alone.

The wind storms of previous days had dropped many fresh olives onto the nets. Olives must be large and deep blue in colour, in other words, ripe enough to be edible and of course good in taste. We began our hard labour of hand picking the best olives of western Crete one by one.

However, the olives did not fall on to one heap for us to collect easily. They were scattered all over the netting. After an hour of this I began scheming how to run my efforts more efficiently. Not forgetting that this day was to be spend in the Cretan countryside the old traditional way that my mother knew: Slow but constant pace of work. In spite of this my mother had the solution: Gather up olives in large piles so we could sort through them while sitting down. As these huge nets covered the entire field my mother disappeared and came back holding brunches of thyme to make a broom to sweep the olives up to a pile. It worked wonderfully. Within two hours we had about 30 kilos.

Shortly before noon we went off to join our friend Eytyxis in the village of Kampos.The trees were loaded with a variety of olives called “tsounati” in the Cretan dialect. Eytyxis was very proud of his orchard and showed us around explaining how well and promising this harvesting season is. He invited us to break for lunch at his house, but we insisted instead on our goal for the day: picking as many olives as we could.

We started work quickly but the olives were too small for our purpose and unripe, green. We selected carefully as many large green ones as we could find up in the trees. Alternative plan, we would make instead cracked olives, known as “tsakistes”. They get preserved in lemon juice and salted water. They are great on their own or with bread and cheese or in salads or even to cook with them (using wild greens and olive oil, cuttle fish and fennel casserole).

The snow-capped mountain across the valley in the afternoon sun was absolutely gorgeous. The colours of the fields and the houses were wonderfully clear and bright. In the sight of such beauty, I thought that we are so lucky to be living in such a blessed place.

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