From Olive to Oil – part 1

At the start of the process, olives are like juicy gems - so beautiful and full of potential.  You savour the fresh air while you carefully pick the berries from the olive trees, admiring their colours and contemplating everything from the next exciting step in the oil extraction process, to the meaning of life and The Beyond.  There’s something mesmerizing, calming, and old-world charming about picking olives.

After a couple of hours, the picking becomes less gentle, some leaves and twigs make their way into your harvest basket, and into your hair, (and if you’re unlucky, then into an ear or an eye), and some olive berries make their way onto your fellow pickers’ backs while they’re not looking… ok… maybe not “make their way”… Maybe you start pelting each other with olives out of boredom, frustration, or whatever the reason for that first missile to be thrown.  The second, third and follow-up missiles are launched in revenge! The juicy gems morph into welt-forming weapons.

Next up is the washing process.  The mill is scrubbed and hosed down; the olive berries are rinsed.  Clean olives are placed into the mill and… aargh… all the carelessly included leaves and stems need to be picked out before the crushing starts. No worries, that’s quickly sorted out in anticipation of the rolling stone.  A couple photographs here and there and then it starts…


Slowly at first while building momentum and then whoa! The mill wheel starts to move at a steady pace and you have a strange urge to keep up. Your heart rate and lung capacity; however, have other plans.  Time to tag in a friend and do relay rounds.  After a couple of half-rounds, you realise that it takes more energy to hand over the wheel than it does to simply keep going around.  So you keep going around.  And around; and around; and around; and how on earth do the donkeys do it?  And around and; gasp, those darn lungs are letting you down again; and around; and around; and…oh boy…suddenly the mill wheel is not the only thing going around and around… is the ground moving?  No, I don’t think so; but the house seems to be… surely that’s not right…ooooohhh, the twisting of stomach and twinge of nausea give it away – it’s your head – that’s what’s spinning!  Time to tag in that friend again.  You let go of the turning pole and that’s when you realise it.  That pole was the only thing keeping you on your feet! You stumble around in poorly-formed circles like a drunkard.  Your friend can’t help you stand up straight because she’s now enslaved to the turning of the millwheel, going around; and around; and around; and laughing at your plight, forgetting that it’s her turn next!

When the world comes back into focus, you check on the pulp. Pulp?  No. It’s still a mishmash of berries.  Why aren’t they pulping yet?  Surely you’ve been at this long enough by now.  As the mill wheel carves its path through the olives you notice that the last few rounds were in vain because the olives gather at the edges and the wheel tracks happily along its cleared path. Drat!  Juicy gems long forgotten, you know what’s needed to deal with these persistent pipped pomes. (Actually, olives are not pomes. Olives are classified as drupes, but at this point, who cares?)  You need a paddler.

The paddler wields a paddle (duh!) and this paddle is meant to sweep, scoop, scrape or use other creative means to ensure that the wheel has olives in its path on every turn.  Sounds simple, right?  Tut, tut, so naïve.  When are these things ever simple?  Imagine that you are the paddler.  You position yourself in front of the wheel so that you can leisurely scrape olives into its path as you smirk at the ass pushing on the wheel pole.  No, there’s no donkey in this tale; it’s just that you can’t pass up the opportunity to refer to your friend as an ass in a context where such name-calling isn’t construed as overly insulting. Besides, you’ve got the easier job and your friend is executing the donkey work.  Back to the task at hand: imagine you are the paddler.  The paddle goes in, you scoop.  Gosh that wheel comes at you fast!  You lunge forward and scoop the next batch just in time, only to find the wheel right up behind you again. Lunge. Scoop. Lunge. Dammit…you can’t keep ahead.  The wheel keeps coming and your friendly-at-first name-calling starts to incorporate a more agitated pronunciation of the word “ass”.  Yikes! No time to lunge.  You lift the paddle above the ass’s head and step back to allow wheel and driver to pass underneath – now you are the chaser.  Perhaps this will be easier.  The first few scoops go well.  You scrape the olives into the just-cleared track as the wheel passes and you have enough time to reload before it comes around again.  Just when you think you’ve found a groove; the dreaded wheel catches up on you.  You fling the paddle into the air milliseconds before it’s crushed by the relentless millstone but you forget to step back and: crash! Your friend slams into you. Olive gloop splats onto your head from the still-overhead paddle and suddenly you’re the ass.

4 Comments on From Olive to Oil – part 1

  1. That was hilarious, I think I laughed a little too much at your plight. I am so looking forward to part 2. Did you build the mill yourselves? I hope you cracked open a nice bottle of wine & put your feet up at the end of that day… Have a great weekend.

    • Amanda Nightingale // May 18, 2020 at 3:38 pm // Reply

      I’m pleased that you enjoyed reading about the first part of our olive-oil adventure – we had a good laugh at ourselves too! 🙂
      The mill was built by the previous owner of the house – it’s a beautiful feature.

  2. Oh gosh. Having seen that primordial (yet somehow soulful) mill & wheel first hand I can only imagine the hard work involved! Great description & fascinating if laborious process. How do you then press the oil?

    • Amanda Nightingale // May 18, 2020 at 3:46 pm // Reply

      The oil is pressed from the “olive gloop” using an olive press. Or, in our case, by being inventive with equipment we had on-hand and putting in way more time & effort than should be required to produce a bottle of olive oil! I’ll try explain in part 2 of the story.

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