The onset of the cold weather or the first rains of the season signal the time has come for the annual olive harvest. Depending on the season the start of the harvest can occur anytime from mid October to early November. Last year Autumn and the chilly weather arrived early and well before the first rains of the season were due to be experienced. The rains had arrived in the north of the country, but here in Wadi Musa it is rare for the area to receive rainfall before November.
But with the cold weather the harvest for 2013 in Wadi Musa started in mid October with olive trees being slowly relieved of their black, deep purple and green bounty. A familiar sight when driving around town was seeing canvas sheeting spread under the canopies of the olive trees, families all partaking in harvesting the olives by hand. Most families own plots of land which only support a small olive grove with on average no more than 20 olive trees. These groves are intertwined through the valley with houses, buildings and roads, painting a patchwork of green, grey and silver tones among the browns and blacks of the man made structures.
The large patch of green on the right hand side of the photo are all olive and fruit trees and whilst it is a significantly sized area it is not owned by one land holder instead being made up of small plots of no more than about 20 trees per plot.
It is very much an all hands on deck approach to the olive harvest and this year I was able to help out for a few hours in the afternoon along with other members of the family. Alia also helped out in her own way!
Atef and his brothers all helping out with the harvest.
Atef’s mum stripping olives from small branches that break off and rolling up the canvas sheeting after one of the trees has been relieved of it’s load.
Even the olives that have fallen onto the ground, once the canvas is removed, are carefully picked up by Atef’s sister in law.
Atef’s dad with some of spoils of harvest.
Nothing goes to waste with the branches and leaves that have fallen or are pruned off taken around to the goats to eat.
The harvest is loaded into the back of the pick-up and taken to the pressing facility which is located in a town on the Desert Highway about 40 minutes from Wadi Musa. To achieve the highest quality oil the olives are best pressed the day they are harvested as prolonged storage promotes the growth of the naturally occurring bacteria found on the skin of the olives. The bateria starts to break down the fruit and the olives will ferment resulting in an inferior tasting oil.
At the end of the day Atef and his Dad headed off with both their pick-ups piled high with sacks brimming with the black, purple and green bounty. It was then a long night of waiting around for your turn to use the press as this press services all the surrounding areas. I didn’t go as they were there until 3 in the morning waiting for their turn.
Atef took the next lot of photos for me on his camera phone whilst waiting that night so the quality isn’t so great, but it gives an idea of the pressing process and how the resulting end product of the most fabulous olive oil that I have ever tasted is obtained.
The sacks are unloaded on to pallets with everyone keeping a watchful eye on their harvest.
Inside the pressing plant.
Getting closer to your turn!
The sacks are emptied into a hop and the olives taken up by conveyor belt.
Liquid gold! The highly prized freshly pressed olive oil.
The oil is filled into large tin containers which are called tonikah in Arabic. One tonikah holds 16 litres of olive oil. Atef’s dad rewards each family member who participates in the harvesting of the fruit with a tonikah of olive oil. I am incredible grateful and humbled to receive our gift of a tonikah of olive oil firstly knowing that it’s wholesale value is approximately 70JD (about $100) and that the sale of olive oil makes up a significant portion of Atef’s dad’s income for the year. Then secondly there is the taste of this oil which is rich, and vibrant – it sings in your mouth. It has a huge hit of fruitiness with just a slight after taste of pungency – or the spiciness that catches in the back of the throat. It’s colour is an intense olive green and the texture is more viscous than the supermarket varieties which I now know to be pale, insipid and thin by comparison.
The oil is not filtered with the first oil poured from the tonikah slightly cloudy in appearance, but it is widely expressed that non filtered oil is of better quality with the flavour being more intense. The sediment eventually settles to the bottom over the course of a few weeks. All the oil produced at this processing facility could be classed as Extra Virgin as no heat or chemicals are used in the extraction process. Just cold pressed resulting in extremely high quality olive oil for us to enjoy as the fruits of our labour.