This is the story of the traditional, family olive press of Fundana.
The central building of Fundana was built in about 1780 and consisted of the Olive press (one of the 1420 olive presses the island possessed), the warehouses where the olive oil was kept in huge cans, and the mansion where the family stayed in order to supervise the agricultural works of the farm, which at this time numbered 2000 olive trees.
“Our traditional Olive press of Fundana, witness of the agrarian economy of our island and part of an important period of our historical heritage”Spyros Spathas Fundana Manager
In November, with the first “rambia”(strong wind) the first olives started falling. Before sunrise, under all weather conditions, 10-20 women from the nearby villages came on foot to the farm in order to collect the olives. This work was exclusively for women, as it demanded skilful and quick hands.
While singing traditional songs, 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, and throwing them in their little reed baskets, which they emptied into large bags. Due to the humidity and frost, their fingers were frozen. Then they transported the bags full of olives on their back, or by donkey to the olive press.
The work in the olive press required much physical strength 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, putting blinkers on the animal, and yoking it. A man lit the oil lamp, which always hung in front of the Christian icon, made the sign of the cross and only then the process began. Who knows how much olive oil will be produced today?
As the horse walked, it turned around the three heavy millstones for nearly two and a half hours, thus squeezing the olives and transforming them into a pulp. If the family didn’t own a horse or a mule or a donkey, then, as a last resort, two men turned the millstones. The purpose of the stony ground floor around the grinding mill was so that the animal could walk more stably. The first olive oil produced floated to the surface as it was lighter and was gathered with big spoons made of dried pumpkin. This virgin olive oil had a unique taste and aroma! The taste and aroma 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 were fortunate enough to have experienced it.
After this first process was completed, they filled around twelve 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. The type of iron screw of our olive press dates from the beginning of the 19 Century and enabled greater pressure and in consequence more oil. Two men turned around the wooden tool, a piston with a thick rope which pressed the screw, which in turn pressed the bags with the pulp for about 2 hours. At the same time, a man continually poured boiling water on the bags so that the mixed oil, burning water and lees dropped inside a wooden barrel in an underground square hole below the press.
The pure oil, after some time, came to the surface, as it was lighter, and the black-red lees were deposited in a separate tank by way of a tube. They gathered the pure oil with a spoon and used Ionian weights to count the quantity and the profit. The remaining pulp inside the bags (leaves, dirt, and kernels) were mixed with wheat and used as animal food, as well as for fuel for stoves or for the production of the green soap in local soap factories (Patounis, etc.), which even today is a good quality natural soap. The olive oil making process was very ecological as nothing was wasted.
The annual production was sufficient for the needs of the family, and any excess was sold to Corfiot olive-oil merchants, who had their warehouses close to San Rocco square. The production costs were covered, and in seasons of good production a small profit was made.
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 which pays respect to the agrarian economy of our island, 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.