European Escapades

Prune and Olive Soup




Pruning the Olive Trees
Pruning the Olive Trees.

We have had our first X-helper experience in Italy and it has been fun already, although our backs would disagree. I guess it would be better if we were built like Haggi in the spirit of that shaggy dog story about the haggis, I presume that Haggi is the plural for Haggis. It is said in some circles in Scotland that the Haggis is a small mammal running around the tops of the Scottish mountains and due to the heavy slopes, that they have one pair of legs, a pair being one front leg and one back leg, that is shorter than the other. This makes it easier for the Haggis as it runs around the mountainsides as it forages for food. Oh how we would love one of our legs to be shorter than the other, as it would help with the balance and ease of movement as we partake in our first volunteer experience by pruning some olive trees on the steep terraces of Cinque Terre for our newly found friends Heiko & Susan.

Bart Tending the Raging Fire
Bart Tending the Raging Fire.

It’s a beautiful day and one of the first real sunny days we have had since leaving France. The sun helps but does make the strenuous work of olive tree pruning more demanding. I think we got through nearly five litres of spring water which we collected from a public font in a small village of Aulla on our way up to the olive grove just outside La Spezia. Pruning maybe a mild term for what we were actually doing as Heiko utilising a large chainsaw, hacked at the poor olive trees, giving us humongous branches to prune into smaller pieces ready to be carted off to the fire tended by Heiko’s cousin Bart. The pruning was not so difficult, but the carting of the branches up the steep slopes to the area where the fire was raging was very difficult indeed. The terracing we were working on was unloved and had soften into a sloping bank with no real steps or pathways to utilise. Half of it was just chucking the branches up the hill to someone else to throw again up the next few feet as this was all we could manage. A modern day chain gang. It was comforting to know that as we carried out this back breaking work ‘we are new to hard work and need to be broken in again I guess’ Heiko’s other X-Helper Addie was busy collecting wild Onions, Sorrel, Nettle leaves and Mallow for our lunchtime soup that was to be placed on the raging fire.

Heiko Tending the Wild Food Soup
Heiko Tending the Wild Food Soup.

The soup started to simmer as we took a well earned rest, sitting on the grassy banks chatting about the mornings work. I learnt that the wild plant Mallow is a relation of the Marsh Mallow, a plant that was used to make the well known food of Marshmallows, before the evolution to the sweet sugary concoction we know and love today. Was there a resemblance? I don’t know and when I get a good internet connection I will find out. The soup was to be accompanied by a loaf or two of Susan’s gorgeous home baked bread that she had baked the night before, as well as our first taste of the olive oil that Heiko had made from olives harvested from the same olive trees we were pruning that day. It does give you a sense of achievement knowing that we were helping to cultivate the production of next year’s olives and olive oil. It seems that the trees we were pruning had been untended for over ten years and we had a lot of work to get them back to their best yields. With the addition of a few cans of cold beer from the fridge, one of the luxuries that carting a motorhome around with you gives, it was a perfect working lunch. Lunch over the pruning work started again in earnest.

View Over The Apennines
View Over The Apennines.

It was hard work but rewarding as we slowly packed up for the day and headed back to our motorhome to camp down for the night in the driveway at the top of the olive grove. The views over the valley looking towards the Apennine Mountains was spectacular and as we snuggled down now alone, we watched as the sun set, lighting up the sky a beautiful deep crimson red, ending our first volunteer experience with Help-X.

This entry was posted on Saturday, March 19th, 2011 at 11:29 am and is filed under Travel Stories. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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