Have you ever wondered why some olive trees are regularly pruned whilst others are not. There appears to be a different culture of olive cultivation from island to island, region to region and country to country.
Does the pruning affect the quality of oil?
Stanley Stewart wrote in Times Live the following piece about Paxos olives:
“I walked between tiny hamlets in the interior, through olive groves, steeped in sun-flecked shadow, threaded by dry stone walls, and silent but for the rising drone of cicadas. Olives are the key to the Paxiot character. Olives have meant that, for centuries, no one had to do very much.
It was all down to the Venetians who ruled the island for 400 years until the Napoleonic wars. The Venetians had created an inflated market for olive oil by persuading the women of North Africa that nothing would make them so beautiful as bathing in the stuff. To take advantage of this market, they tried to persuade the Paxiots to plant olive trees. When persuasion didn’t work they offered them one drachma, the equivalent of about £75 in today’s money, for each tree. The islanders promptly planted a quarter of a million.
They have been living off this burst of industry ever since.
“In the old days, if you had 300 trees,” a man told me over coffee one morning in Gaios, “you didn’t need to work. Now the price of olive oil has fallen, people need jobs. They call it progress.”
If olive trees were cathedrals, the Paxos trees would be Notre Dame – elaborate, vast, gnarled, very ancient, and heavily buttressed. They sprawl fantastically. Apparently their owners only bother with pruning every other decade at most.
Paxos’s approach to the whole olive business is not so much laid back as completely horizontal. In most parts of the world, olive harvests usually take six to eight weeks. In Paxos, they can take seven months. The islanders don’t pick olives. They spread nets and wait for them to drop, venturing out now and again to collect the windfall and send them off to press. It is an admirable approach.”
Not sure about the drachma for each tree planted – I think it was a Venetian ducato (ducat).
The Paxos olive trees, up till about 20 years ago, used to yield a crop of olives every other year. This was abruptly changed when it was decided (against the wishes of the Paxiots) to spray the entire island to eradicate an olive blight. The Paxiots say that the present annual harvest is not as good as in the years when it was every two years.
I’m not an olive oil connoisseur but the Paxos olive oil looks good, tastes good & by golly ….