This is the story and the way in which the traditional, family olive press of Fundana functioned.
In about 1780, the central building of Fundana was built, which consisted of the Olive press (one of the 1420 olive presses the island posessed), the warehouses where the olive oil was kept in huge cans and the mansion where the family was staying in order to supervise all agricultural works of the farm, which at this time numbered 2000 olive trees.
In November,with the first “rambia”(strong wind) ,the first olives started falling. So, very early in the morning, much before sunrise, still dark, under all weather conditions,10-20 women from the nearby villages were starting coming on foot to our farm in order to collect the olives, because this kind of work was exclusively a womens work, as it demanded skilful and quick hands.
They gathered the olives from the ground with their hands,one by one, through the wet grass, between thorns, all kinds of wild plants, with patience, singing and threw them in their little reed baskets, which they emptied in big bags. By the humidity and frost, their fingers were frozen…. Then,the bags, full of olives, were transported on their back or on the back of the donkey to the olive press.
The work in the olive press was very hard and was performed by men. They emptied the bags in the grinding mill with the 3 round millstones. Meanwhile another man prepared the horse or the mule, binding his eyes with blinkers and joking it. A man lighted the oil lamp,which always hung in front of the icon, made the sign of the cross and only then the process began.Who knows how much olive oil will be produced today?
The horse began to turn moving all around the 3 heavy millstones for nearly 2,5 hours, thus squeezing the olives and transforming them to a pulp. If the family didn’t own a horse or a mule or a donkey, then, in extreme cases, 2 men turned the mill stones….The purpose of the stony ground floor around the grinding mill was so that the animal could walk more stable. So was performed the first process and the first olive oil, which was floating up on the surface as it was more light, was gathered with big spoons made of dried pumpkin.This first olive oil had a unique taste and aroma! This taste of the fresh warm bread ,which was baked in the oven of the olive press dipped in the fresh olive oil, the nostalgic “boukouvala” ,remains unforgettable in the memory of those who had the luck to experience it.
After this first process was over they filled about 12 round, straw bags with the remaining pulp and piled them one upon another in the press. In the 17th century they used a wooden screw for the press.This technology was introduced to Corfu from Italy, by the Venetians. This type of iron screw of our olive press belongs to the beginning of the 19 century and enabled greater pressure and in consequence more oil. Two men were occupied in turning all around the wooden worker, a piston with a thick rope which pressed the screw, which in its turn, pressed the bags with the pulp for about 2 hours. At the same time, a man was pouring continually boiling water on the bags (which was boiled in the kitchen of the olive press) ,so that the oil, burning water and lees, mixed dropped inside a wooden barrel which stood open in an underground square hole under the press. The pure oil after sometime came up on the surface, as it was more light and the black-red lees by a tube fell in the fields. With a dried squash plant spoon,they gathered the pure oil and with ionian weights were counting the quantity and the profit. The remaining pulp inside the bags, leaves, dirt, kernel was mixed with wheat and used as animal food for pigs, hens etc., as well as for fuel for stoves or for the production of the green soap in local soap factories (Patounis a.o), which is very healthy, until our days. So, everything was used and nothing was lost.
The annual production was sufficient for the needs of the family, the rest was sold to the Corfiot olive-oil merchants,which had their warehouses close to Saroko square. So, the expenses of the production were payed and in seasons of good production a small profit remained.
Our olive press was used for the last time in 1964. Twenty years later it was cleaned and maintained so as to become a part of our small agrarian museum,witness of the agrarian economy of our island and part of an important period of our historical heritage.Old agricultural tools and instruments, products and spices, which are used for traditional corfiot specialties, are also exhibited. You can find here our reception, a small bar and a library too.