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Sunday, May 17, 2009

Morocco: The Olive Harvest Part I

Look at the light on the olives. It sparkles like diamonds. It is pink, it is blue, and the sky that plays across them is enough to drive me mad.
Claude Renoir

Morocco: The Olive Harvest
Part I

An Introduction

The murmur of an olive grove has something very intimate, immensely old. It is too beautiful for me to try to conceive of it or dare to paint on it.
Vincent Van Gogh in a letter to his brother Theo.*

Last November, when I led my third small-group tour to Morocco, I was lucky enough to witness one of the most elemental and ancient food rites, the olive harvest in Morocco. A provocative, enticing, delightful assault to the senses. Trees sparkle like dull silver in the sun, with the fruits peeking through the long, murmuring leaves. Blacks, greens, purples, pinks, and lavenders mingle in a dizzying array of colors, each representing a different stage in the growth cycle of the olive.

Once pressed, the green-gold liquid offers color anew in the form of the surplus oil, which glints tantalizingly in the sun, illuminated in recycled bottles and jars of every shape, perched for sale on tiny roadside tables located near the grove, near the home.

But far more than being a pleasant sensory attack, the olive harvest represents Time. An age-old ritual of community and survival. A coming together of families, neighbors, villages. An interdependence, underscored by necessity, played out with joy. In Morocco I have seen entire families camped near the groves, the men climbing and shaking the trees, the women and children gathering the fallen fruits. From the grove to the local olive press, something every village has, especially in the valleys of the Rif Mountains, the olives travel in trucks, in horse-drawn wagons, in donkey carts, in baskets on mopeds.
The olive harvest represents a year’s worth of love and effort by the families involved. The cured fruits and pressed oil provide what is needed to meet the families’ demands in the home. The surplus of both yields extra money. And the memories of the shared labor and coming together of communities truly sustain for a lifetime.

*I found the quotes from Van Gogh and Renoir in Diana Henry's inspiring cookbook, Crazy Water Pickled Lemons, available here.

If you enjoyed these photos, look for the upcoming posts on the pressing of the oil, the olives themselves, and a recipe for Moroccan marinated olives.

Interested in visiting Morocco?
For information on my next small-group tour to Morocco in October 2009, contact me at

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