Picking Olives – Tips For Harvesting Olive Trees
The best time to pick olives is between May and September. The best season to harvest olives is during the spring months.
If you want to save money, then choose early in the year or late in the year. You will need a good quality picker, which can reach up to 5 pounds (2kg). A good quality one costs around $100-$150 dollars.
When picking olives, make sure you use a sharp knife. Avoid using kitchen knives or anything else with a serrated edge.
Use only well seasoned olive pits, which have been cleaned thoroughly. Do not use olive skins because they contain no nutrients and do not provide any flavor to your olives. They will just taste like salt water!
You may need to wash your hands several times before you can continue working with the olives.
It is very important to wear gloves while handling olives. The oils from your skin will cause them to burn if you touch them directly.
If you do not wear gloves, the oils will cause your fingers to blister.
If you are going to harvest olives at night, bring a flashlight so that you can see what you are doing and avoid getting burned yourself.
How to Pick Olives
Choose your branches carefully. The olives should be green and plump.
Check for broken or cracked fruit. If there are any olives like this, remove them immediately. Check for insects by gently shaking the branch.
Go for the largest branches first! Leave the smaller ones to last because it is easier to pick them.
Once you have finished with a branch, cut it down using garden shears or a pair of sharp scissors.
You can also use an Olive Harvester or V-Shaped Harvester. These are easy to use and will get the job done quickly.
However, they tend to be expensive to buy and maintain.
There are many tools you can use to pick olives. Many people like the “L” shaped hook because it is easy to use and very affordable.
Another popular option is a “U” shaped hook.
Harvesting Olives For Oil
If you are planning to harvest olives for oil, you should wait until early winter or very late in the year. This is because the olives will not be ripe enough and you will not get a good oil yield.
Ripe olives will produce more oil.
As soon as the olives are harvested, they need to go straight into barrels containing cold water. Make sure that the water covers the olives completely.
The water will keep green olives from turning black and will also keep them firm. The chemicals that are released when the olives begin to spoil, are what cause them to turn black.
If there is no oxygen around, the process cannot take place.
The color of the water will be a pale brown or green. This is natural and nothing to worry about.
After 2-3 weeks you can start collecting the olives from the water for pressing.
You can leave the olives in the water for up to 6 months without any problems. It is best to cover the barrels to keep out sunlight and dust.
Using wooden lids is a good idea as they are porous enough to let the gases escape and block out harmful rays.
Wash the olives before you place them into the container used for pressing. Check for any damaged fruit and remove it because it won’t produce good oil.
The olives should be dry when you put them into the container. If they are still a little damp, they could grow bacteria or mold.
If you are pressed for time, you can remove the water from the olives by pressing or squeezing them. The traditional method is to lay them out in the sun and let direct sunlight do the work for you.
Cover them with a blanket at night to protect them from nocturnal predators.
Leave the olives in the container until you are ready to press them. Keep them away from bright light and extreme temperatures.
This can cause them to turn black prematurely and spoil your whole batch.
Always wash your hands before you begin to press the olives. Any foreign matter could spoil the entire batch.
Once you are ready to start, you will need a clean workspace and all of your equipment within easy reach. You don’t want to be running back and forth while the olives are waiting to be pressed.
Place a metal sieve or strainer over your collecting pot. This is where the pulp and juice will collect while the oil is extracted from the solids.
Make sure that it fits inside the pot and leaves enough space for the oil to flow into.
Add an equal amount of acid to the pulp and juice mixture. You can add lemon juice or some kind of vinegar.
The acid helps the oil release from the pulp. If you are in a bind, you can use wine instead of acid. Wine is about 5% acid and should work just fine in an emergency.
Use a potato masher to crush the olives and help break them down before you begin pressing. Start slowly to allow the juices to begin flowing freely.
Use a large wooden spoon to stir the mixture. You need the spoon to reach all the way to the bottom of the pot.
Make sure that you scrape the bottom thoroughly, as this is where most of the oil will eventually collect. Stirring also helps to release more of the oil.
Stick a temperature probe into the pulp so that you can monitor the temperature of your mash. The ideal temperature should be between 90 and 105 degrees Fahrenheit.
Stirring helps to regulate this process so you don’t overheat your mixture.
Once the temperature has stabilized, you can begin to press your mash. You can use an old fashioned potato masher to do this or place another metal sieve on top of your collecting bowl and place a heavy object on top of it, such as a cast iron skillet.
Stir your mixture periodically to stop it from burning. It is ready when you can pour it steadily from the pot.
Let the oil settle overnight in a cool, dark place. The oil will gather at the top, while the water and lighter particles will gather at the bottom.
Pour the oil into a bottle using a funnel and store it in a cool place until you are ready to use it.
You can flavor your oil using herbs and spices. Lemon peel and garlic are popular choices.
Make sure that you chop them up before you add them to the oil so they will dissolve completely.
Make sure that your pot is made of stainless steel, glass or food grade plastic. Do not use copper, aluminum or iron as these will taint the flavor of your oil and may even be poisonous.
Make sure that the only ingredients in your oil are olive pulp and salt. Many people buy bottles of flavored oil in the store but these often contain undesirable ingredients that can make you sick.
Wear gloves when pressing the olives to avoid staining your hands. You can also use a plastic bag tied around your hand and cuff over your shirtsleeve.
Be careful when removing the bag so that the pulp doesn’t get under your nail.
Make sure that your containers are deep enough to collect all of the oil. You can always pour the oil into smaller bottles once it has settled.
Do not use aluminum or cast iron pots for this process. Both metals will react with the acid in the olives to give the oil a terrible flavor.
If you do not have a stainless steel, glass or food grade plastic pot, you can still make your oil using a different process. Instead of heating the olives in water and acid, simply cover them with cold water and leave them out at room temperature for 3 to 4 days. Then strain the mixture through cheesecloth and use that juice as the base for your oil. You will still need to use an acid such as vinegar or lemon juice to help release the oil from the pulp.
How to Make Olive Oil: Cleaning
Rinse your equipment thoroughly before and after use. Once you have finished making your delicious oil, it is important to thoroughly clean your equipment before use.
Wipe down the surfaces with a cloth and warm water or run through a dishwasher on a normal cycle. If you are using a food mill, shake it over the garbage to remove any pulp before rinsing. All equipment should be air dried before storing.
How to Make Olive Oil: Storage
Once your oil has settled, pour it into a sterilized glass container and cap tightly. Store in a cool place away from direct light.
Pour the oil into smaller bottles once it has settled to save space in your refrigerator. The shelf life of your oil will depend on the ingredients and how it has been stored. Check the expiry date on your vinegar and lemon juice if you made the oil using this method. Oil made with store bought ingredients should be safe to use for up to one year.
How to Make Olive Oil: Serving
Olive oil is delicious drizzled over fresh bread or added to pasta during cooking. You can also use it as a dip for bread or vegetables or in salad dressings and marinades.
Drizzle the oil into soups and stews or use as a dip for crudites.
Now that you know how to make olive oil, you can impress your friends with your new culinary skills. Make sure to choose the best quality ingredients you can for the best results.
The better the ingredients, the more delicious the final product will be!
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All images used with permission by Cheri Sicard Fine Dining Hunter.
Sources & references used in this article:
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Respiration and physicochemical changes in harvested olive fruits by P García, M Brenes, C Romero… – Journal of Horticultural …, 1995 – Taylor & Francis
Influence of time of harvest and maturity index on olive oil yield and quality by A Dag, Z Kerem, N Yogev, I Zipori, S Lavee… – Scientia …, 2011 – Elsevier
Method and apparatus for picking olives or other fruits by JC Tyros – US Patent 4,357,790, 1982 – Google Patents
Pre-and post-harvest factors and their impact on oil composition and quality of olive fruit by MA Mele, MZ Islam, HM Kang, AM Giuffrè – Emirates Journal of Food and …, 2018 – ejfa.me
Growing olives in Western Australia by R Taylor, J Burt – 2007 – researchlibrary.agric.wa.gov.au
Olive production manual by GS Sibbett, L Ferguson – 2005 – books.google.com
Video evaluation of table olive damage during harvest with a canopy shaker by S Castro-Garcia, UA Rosa, CJ Gliever, D Smith… – …, 2009 – journals.ashs.org