I don’t really like olives all that much. But I adore the idea of olives. And olive groves. And the Mediterranean. The stories by Peter Mayle and Carol Drinkwater. The presence of olive trees, olive oil, olive wood, and of course “olive branches” in our mythological, literary and cultural traditions. And the history of an ancient industry that has survived, in many cases relatively unchanged, for thousands of years.
The idea of olives is so very different from my own rather pedestrian life at the moment. The idea of olives is beautiful, and soft and sunny and warm. (Important as I write this because, Autumn is coming early this year: Gobs of leaves are falling from the trees, and I can’t sweep them up fast enough on the brick patio. And this morning, there’s a distinct chill in the air, a foretaste of things to come. (I knew I should never have taken the Christmas tree down; almost time to put it up again….) So I’m thinking about temperate breezes from warmer climes, and the joys of olive farming.
Sorry about the music, approximately seven minutes:
There are, apparently, over 600 varieties of olives, and each of them is unique both in texture and flavor, and much affected by the soil, climate and altitude in which it grows. Olives are harvested at varying stages of ripeness: green-ripe, all the way through black-ripe. Because olives right from the tree are almost inedible, they must be cured before being eaten, a process which is done by fermenting, soaking, salting or drying, or some combination thereof, and all of which must be done before the olives arrive in jars, or cans, or fresh at the salad bar at your local market.
I think about an gnarly ancient, pulling down the tempting-looking little fruits from the trees and sampling one, spitting it out, and thinking “Ugh. What can I do to make these sour little lumps edible? I know! Lye! I’ll soak them in Lye!” I mean, really. Who thinks that way? Someone must have, I guess. Wonder how many people died before they got it right, though.
Although I don’t like my olives “neat,” I sometimes like them “in” things, and one of those things is Tapenade, an olive spread that works as a dip, or a spread on crackers or toast:
1 1/2 cups brine cured olives (be very sure all of the pits have been removed)
2 anchovy fillets, squashed with a fork
1 1/2 tablespoons capers
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
2 cloves garlic
3 tablespoons lemon juice
Salt and pepper (I usually don’t add any more salt, because between the olives and the anchovies and the capers, there’s plenty)
4 tablespoons olive oil
Blitz everything except the olive oil gently (use the “pulse” rather than the “on” function) in a food processor till chopped (you don’t want it like hummus, you want some texture)
Drizzle in the olive oil and pulse a couple more times.
Refrigerate if you’re not going to eat it right away. But let it warm to room temperature before enjoying.
Do you like olives? What kinds of olives? Stuffed or plain? Brined or in oil? Fresh or dried? How about olive oil? Which, in your opinion, is the nicest or the best, and what region of the world does it come from? (I think the best olive oil I’ve ever tasted came from Israel, with olive oil from Crete a close second.)
And what, besides the obvious, do you do with olives in your food and drink? Recipes welcome.