Olive Tree History
The beautiful Olive trees, which live to be over 600 years old, have been cultivated since before 3000 BC, and are believed to have first been grown in Crete, migrating later to the Greek mainland around the 12-14 centuries BC, and to North Africa and Italy around 600
BC. It is disputed whether the Greeks or the later Romans took the olive into southern France. In Spain, olive trees were introduced by the Phoenicians around 1000 BC.
The Spanish, mostly religious orders looking for converts, transported olive trees to the New World in 1560, planting three olive trees in Peru. They later took trees into California as well. Olives have been raised in China since before the sixth century AD, but do not play a major role in Chinese cuisine.
Each culture that has adopted the olive has also venerated it. The olive branch has become the universal symbol of peace. Olive wood has been used for thrones, scepters, temples.
Olive oil has been used for religious and royal ceremonies. Because the olive tree is slow-growing and won’t produce olives if damaged, rules were enacted in many cultures to protect olive trees.
Solon of Greece enacted laws in the 6th century AD that made it a capital offense to cut down olive trees.
(Oddly, in 1815, the King of Naples, Joachim Murat, ordered the cutting down of olive groves because he felt the trees gave the peasants too easy a life and he wanted them to work harder. The king was shot for his actions.
Olives Commercial Use
Olives have been an important part of international commerce since 2500 BC when the Cretans first shipped their oil to Egypt and Asia Minor. Olive oil has become a staple of the much-vaunted Mediterranean diet and is enjoyed worldwide.
Olive oil tastings, though, are a little harder to come by. Think about staging your own with a few carefully chosen monovarietal from various regions of the world, then go forth and cook like a Spaniard. Or an Italian. Or a Greek, a North African, or a southern French cook.
Green oil is valued for its high antioxidant content, which protects the oil from going rancid. We sniff and slurp, tasting for sweetness in the front of the tongue, bitterness along the sides, and pungency at the back of our throats.
Does it smell like a green apple? Leaves or grass? Is it soft and mild, or peppery and strong? Our palates progress from feeling safe with the gentle nuances of the milder oils to enjoying the fiercer nature of the more pungent and peppery styles.
A brief lecture follows. Don’t, our expert warns, be overly focused on the acid content of oils.
Olive Oil Varieties
Extra-virgin olive oil, which is cold-pressed without the addition of chemicals or solvents, and has an acid content of one percent or less, is lovely for dressings, raw vegetables, and salads. It can be used for frying, adding a distinctive flavor, but its aroma might diminish with the heat.
Refined olive oil, the new classification to replace virgin, has an acid content of one to two percent and may have a less intense flavor and aroma. Olive oil is a blend of oils, usually refined to improve flavor or aroma.
Pomace, the final grade, is extracted with solvents and is usually very mild in flavor. Oil is not meant for cellaring or storing. Buy it young, in small amounts, and keep it cool.
Entire cuisines have been defined by the use of olives and olive oil. The Middle East, Greece, Italy, Spain, and southern France choose olive oil over other oils or fats.
Spain produces 75 percent of the world’s olive oil and markets much of it to Italy. Spanish producers are beginning to see the value of marketing their oils under Spanish labels and are mounting a campaign to raise their profile.
Olive Oil Uses
For thousands of years, the olive has been a vital part of cooking, health, construction, and cosmetics. Olive oil is said to have been used as axle grease during the construction of the great tombs in Egypt.
It is a fuel source for lamps, a cosmetic oil, a cleanser, and healing massage oil. (The olive tree contains salicylic acid, an active element in Aspirin.)
It has been used for cooking and as a preservative, mainly for tuna, sardines, and anchovies.
Olive tree wood is beautiful and strong, as popular today for kitchen implements as it once was for spear shafts and adze handles. The trees, which live to be more than 600 years old, have been cultivated since 3,000 BC.
Believed to have first been grown in Crete, the olive tree migrated to the Greek mainland around the 12th to 14th century BC and North Africa and Italy around 600 BC.
It is disputed whether the Greeks or the Romans took the olive into southern France. In Spain, olive trees were introduced by the Phoenicians around 1,000 BC.
Spanish religious orders looking for converts transported olive trees to the New World in 1560, planting three trees in Peru. They later took olive trees to California as well. Since before the sixth century AD, olives have been raised in China but do not play a major role in Chinese cuisine.
Each culture that has adopted the olive has also venerated it. The olive branch has become the universal symbol of peace. Olive oil has been used for religious and royal ceremonies.
Rules were enacted to protect olive trees because the tree is slow-growing and won’t produce fruit if damaged. Solon of Greece enacted laws in the 6th century AD that made it a capital offense to cut them down.
(In 1815, the King of Naples ordered olive groves to be cut down because he felt the trees gave the peasants an easy life. The king was shot.)
Olives have been an important part of international commerce since 2,500 BC when the Cretans shipped their oil to Egypt and Asia Minor. Olive oil has become a staple of the much-vaunted “Mediterranean diet” and is enjoyed worldwide.
Olive oil tastings, though, are a little harder to come by. Think about staging your own with a few carefully chosen monovarietal from various regions of the world, then go forth and cook like a Spaniard.
Or an Italian. Or a Greek, a North African, or a southern French cook.
These recipes were presented by Spanish chef Alejandro Mugica at the recent Banff Food and Wine Festival, the Gourmet Tour of Spain.
Hake and King Prawn Salad With Black Olive Vinaigrette
Hake is a white fish native to the Atlantic and North Pacific oceans. It has a delicate texture and flavor. Cod is an appropriate substitute.
8 oz. (225 g) boiled or poached hake
2 oz. (60 g) cooked shrimp
2 tbsp (30 mL) minced onion
1 tbsp (15 mL) minced parsley
2 tbsp (30 mL) minced zucchini
a drop of brandy
1 oz. (30 mL) mayonnaise
1 oz. (30 g) lettuce
4 cooked king prawns (langostinos Gambone’s)
4 tomato wedges
parsley for garnish
1 oz. (30 g) pitted black olives
1 oz. (30 mL) basic vinaigrette
Flake the cooked hake, then stir in shrimp, onion, parsley, zucchini, brandy, and mayonnaise.
Arrange lettuce on two plates, divide salad evenly and garnish plates with prawns, tomato wedges, and parsley. Puree olives, stir in vinaigrette, and drizzle over the salad and its garnish.
To make a basic vinaigrette: whisk together extra-virgin olive oil, sherry vinegar, a pinch of salt, and a spoonful of mustard.
Make the dressing on the tart side to aid digestion and enhance the flavors of your food.
Presented by Mugica of Navarra in northern Spain, this is a rich, mouth-filling, unctuous bowlful of pleasure. Serve with crispy bread to mop up the last drop.
1 lb. (454 g) sea bass
flour for dredging
4 oz. (125 mL) olive oil
2 garlic cloves, chopped
8 oz. (250 mL) white wine
1-2 cups (250-500 mL) fish stock
1 hard-boiled egg, peeled and split in half
1/2 cup (125 mL) green peas
4 large white asparagus tips
2 tbsp (30 mL) minced parsley
salt and pepper to taste
Dredge fish in the flour, shaking off excess. In an earthenware casuela (casserole), heat oil and cook garlic until fragrant.
Add the fish, skin side up. Brown it, then turn it over.
Add white wine and stock, bring to an active simmer. Add clams, egg, peas, and asparagus.
Cook for a few minutes until fish just flakes apart when tested, then sprinkle with parsley, and salt, and pepper to taste.
Serve in heated, shallow soup plates with a spoon, fork, and plenty of bread.