Natural Stress Relief: the Olive Harvest in Dalmatia

Total Croatia News

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November 3, 2019 – Every Dalmatian has one eye on the olive grove in early November – and British sons-in-law are no exception. The natural stress relief of the olive harvest.

There are few finer things in life to be than a Dalmatinski Zet, or Dalmatian son-in-law. I have a legendary Punica, mother-in-law who takes great care of me as well as my wife and kids, and a hard-working father-in-law, or Punac, whose produce from the field has restored my faith in the quality of food after being raised on the fruit and veg of the supermarkets. 

My Punac has long ago given up on the hope that his British zet would be a man of the soil such as he is, and no demands are made of me, but there is one time of year that I try my very hardest to be available with the family – the olive harvest.  

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(Photo Taliah Bradbury)

In addition to all the other fresh goodness that comes daily from the family field, my Punac’s 80 olive trees provide the family with enough of this precious Mediterranean liquid gold to supply the family for the entire year, and often longer. When all four kids lived at home, cheap labour was abundant for the annual pick of in excess of two tons of olives a year.  

But as the kids flew the nest to university and then jobs and families elsewhere, the olive harvest became a little harder to coordinate in terms of assembling the workforce. All the kids have the harvest in mind, even if they cannot be there themselves. It is a trait I noticed in Dalmatians in Zagreb years ago – late Autumn meant olives, and successful business executives would head to the coast and islands and put on their work overalls to be at one with their olives. It is a serene atmosphere, and my daughter caught a little of the atmosphere in the video above (when she should have been picking…).

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 Three of the four siblings made it to the field for this year’s harvest, with the other trying to claim he was with us in spirit by sending a photo of him sitting eating an ice cream on the water in New Zealand while reading Total Croatia News. 

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And so to work. With a less reliable pool of workers than previously, there was a major change to the olive picking lineup last olive harvest, as my Punac introduced a machine to replace the previous hand-picking ‘technology’ which had ruled for generations. The two-pronged machine shook the branches gently, encouraging the olives to drop to the sheet on the ground. 


Maybe it is not a technique for the purists, but it is very effective. Not all olives drop to the ground, of course, and an important component of the support workers is to hold the net high. This is as much as act of self-preservations against flying olives hurtling to your face as an attempt to capture all of the olives. Do some olives escape the net? Absolutely. Is the picking time considerably reduced? In a way you wouldn’t believe. What had been previously up to 2 weeks of picking was reduced to over two tons of olives in just over 3.5 days in early November sunshine. Final olive oil litre count is expected to be about 250 litres, more than acceptable. 

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Here is the bulk of the day’s olive harvest – we managed about 20 crates a day.  

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Peace. Tranquillity. Nature. Whatever your stresses elsewhere, you can leave them behind in the field. And the hand-picking technique is still required for trees which are less productive, as close to Nature as you can get. 

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The highlight of any olive harvest, apart from picking that final olive, comes at the end of the day – rostilj! the grill! 

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The quality of an olive harvest lives long in the memory when measured by the quality of the feast which follows, and in this regard, my Punac never disappoints. 

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An impressive seven kilos of fresh fish, with additional sardines, were served up with salad and wine from ingredients in the field. The simple Dalmatian lifestyle at its very finest. 

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The job complete, thoughts of a return to home to our regular lives. A division of oil for the parting family, and a sigh of relief that the olive harvest timing had been so perfect. Our 3.5 days of picking in the sun were replaced with rain the following morning.  

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And why limit yourself to the olive grove, when there is so much goodness in the family field? Boxes and boxes of mandarins were filled from the family trees, destination Zagreb and Varazdin. 

And so it came, the end of another olive harvest, and the ferry back to Split and onwards north. Thank you dear Punac and Punica, you are the best. Will see you in November 2020 in my finest olive picking attire.  


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