Saffron is the most expensive spice in the world, the moment of harvest is always a great emotion, knowing that you are handling the delicate and precious stigmas.
When the saffron flowers, it is also a joy for the eyes: the field is dyed in purple from the petals of the crocus sativus, accompanied by the yellow of the anthers which carry the pollen. We have already talked about growing saffron and how beautiful crocus sativus flowers are. We will now delve into the work of harvesting and the ensuing peeling operation.
The flowering period
Saffron is a plant that produces only one harvest per year, it flowers during the fall, between October and November. It is very difficult to predict the exact time of flowering, which depends on the weather and varies from year to year. When you see the seedlings coming out, you should check the field daily, waiting for the first flowers to come out.
Flowering lasts a few weeks, you have to go to the garden every morning to collect all the flowers that come out, then they will be peeled and dried, everything must be done during the day. There are days when there will be few flowers, others when there will be many: even that is not predictable; in a single day, it can bloom up to half of the annual saffron harvest. In any case, the harvest period requires a daily commitment from the winegrower.
How to Harvest Saffron
When harvesting this spice, what is interesting are the pistils, more correctly called stigmas: they are the three red threads which, together with the pollen, represent the reproductive system of the plant. In the garden, it is better to take the whole flower, then it will be dry-cleaned at home. It is unthinkable to take the stigmas directly because they are very delicate and you would end up damaging them.
To preserve the quality of the spice and prevent snails from eating the petals, the saffron should be picked in the morning. It is better to go to the garden from 8 am, no need to go there earlier because all the flowers may not have come out yet. The ideal is to take the flower before it opens. It also blooms when it rains, forcing the grower to work underwater. If you don’t pick the flowers, the humidity will dissolve the stigmas and damage them. Flowering attracts many bees, they can be gently repelled, in this period they do not have particularly aggressive attitudes.
The harvested flowers are placed in wicker baskets: it is advisable to use perforated containers that allow breathing and dripping of dew or rainwater.
Once the saffron is harvested, it must be cleaned for further drying. Peeling or grazing is an operation that consists of separating the stigmas from the other parts of the flower. Each crocus flower is made up of three red stigmas, two yellow anthers and five purple petals, sometimes there are flowers that have a different number of stigmas or petals, but much like clovers are exceptions. If the flower is caught early, it is wrapped in a light protective membrane, it will also be removed.
Peeling is done immediately after harvesting, it must be peeled every day to ensure the best quality of the result. It is important to do this with clean hands because it will not be possible to wash off the resulting saffron. It is a delicate and quite long work, it requires a lot of patience.
You must open the flower (you can do this by twisting it slightly between two fingers) and cut the union of the stigmas, usually with your fingernail. The ideal is to keep the three red threads together. The stigmata are retained throughout the red portion, instead discarding the point where they lighten to yellow, immediately after attachment.
After “crushing” all the flowers for the day, the stigmas must be dried, if you want good advice on the best way to do this, you can read the article dedicated to drying saffron.