XI. PRODUCTION OF OIL, WINE, TXAKOLI AND CIDER
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Cleaning the olives
Once harvested and back at the homestead, the oliveñas (leaves that had fallen into the basket when the milking method was used to harvest the olives) were then removed and the olives were stripped of the small stems using a curious wooden device called a zaranda, which was also used in large areas of Navarre. This operation was called “airing the olives” in Viana (N). That device was a type of sieve, over two metres long, consisting of small strips in the form of a mesh, with gaps between them. It was positioned at a slope with one end on the ground and the other held in place on wooden boards or wedges. It was used to separate the olives, once the contents of the baskets had been tipped out on to the device. Two people were needed for this procedure, one of whom tipped out the olives and the other person would kneel on the ground and remove the oliveñas and small stems so that the olives would drop through the mesh (tarrastrañas in Viana).
Once the olives were cleaned, they were stored in the basements of the homesteads. After they had been left to sweat for between a fortnight and a month, the olives were taken to private presses, where the pressing operation took placed as the crushing wheel or millstones were driven by horses.
Making olive oil
Olive oil is usually used for human consumption and therefore the olives need to be trujalear or trujalar or pressed (Viana, Mendigorría-N) to extract the oil they contain. The olive leaves or oil have also been used as folk medicine for ears, skin, to lower blood pressure and as a laxative. In the past, it was also used as fuel for lamps.
Traditional grape harvest on the Mediterranean watershed
The grape harvest is the culmination of the vine-grower's work during the year. The farmer is always aware of the tasks to be carried out in the vineyards and the weather.
The grape harvest begins when the fruit, the grape, is ripe and ready to be picked to use to make wine. This depends on the weather factor. If the grapes ripen early, the harvest begins at the end of September or in early in October, otherwise they are left until mid-October.
All the members of the family, including the youngest ones, although their participation was minimal, and even neighbours, would help out with the harvest.
Grape harvest, mahats-biltzea, mahats-batzea
Apart from being ripe, the grape has to be dry to be harvested. Therefore, if it rains, the harvest would be postponed for a few days until the gapes were totally dry.
The members of the family used to harvest the grape and neighbours would sometimes help out. The harvest always began in the part of the vineyards where there ripest grapes were.
Mechanised harvesting, which is common nowadays in the south of the Basque Country, is not suitable for the Atlantic area where the land is steep and the plots small. In some odd cases, the grapes in new vineyard plots in Gipuzkoa have begun to be harvested using machines.
Cider, sagardoa (sagarnoa or sagarardua in the Northern Basque Country (within France)) is the drink obtained by fermenting fresh apple juice, sagarra, without any added sugar, using carbonic gas produced endogenously and with a low alcohol content, (between 5 and 6.5 oC). It has a long tradition in the Basque Country and has regained in popularity in recent decades.
It is produced in Gipuzkoa, Bizkaia, the Northern Basque Country, the north of Álava and the north-west of Navarra. Apple orchards are only found in the damp Atlantic climate areas, ideal for this type of fruit.
Apples and their growing
It should be noted that climate is essential to successfully grow a crop. Apples require a damp and mild climate, even though the spring blossom should ideally be followed by moderately high temperatures.
Another important factor is the land and two conditions are important: its exposure to the sun and quality. Very moist soils are not very suitable to grow apple trees as they cause fungal diseases that destroy the roots and the crown of the plant. The trees need to be sufficiently apart for their roots not to touch. Cider apple trees are usually planted on poorer land than those producing eating apples.
The apple harvest starts in October and lasts until November, depending on the degree of ripeness of the fruit. The date can be brought forward or delayed depending on the weather.
Windfall apples, often blown off during gales, are usually used to make cider, provided that the apples are not rotten and are ripe and dry.
There is no exclusive apple variety for cider, ardo-sagarra, arno-sagarra, that contain all the products required to obtain the perfect drink, and therefore a series of apples is chosen and the cider maker is responsible for their optimal combination according to the maker's personal formula.
- ETNIKER EUSKALERRIA. Folk Medicine in the Basque Country.Ehtnographic Altas of the Basque Country, 2004, pp. 209-211, 219, 221, 224-225, 254, 323 and 421.
- ETNIKER EUSKALERRIA. Home and Family in the Basque Country. Ehtnographic Altas of the Basque Country, 2011, pp. 535-537.