The olive tree, or as it is known Olea europaea and comes from the coastal areas of the eastern Mediterranean, Syria, Asia Minor and northern Iran. The cultivation of the olive tree is something people have been practicing for many years.
While the fruit of the tree is primarily used for the making of olive oil, the wood has been utilized for the making of furniture and the leaves for medicinal use.
It is believed that the first olive trees were grown in Syria. In Ancient Greece, the tree was seen as holy and people were punished if caught cutting it down. Because of the tree’s fruit, medicinal use and history, many myths and lore have been written about it. In Homer’s Odyssey, the tree is talked about. Greek myth even has tales that involve the olive tree. For instance, Athena won the patronship of Attica from Poseidon with the gift of the olive. The olive tree is mentioned in other stories and myths. Theophrastus speaks of the olive tree of Athens and the Roman poet Horace mentions it in his diet. The olive tree and olives are mentioned in the Bible over 30 times. And, in the Quran, it is praised as a precious fruit.
Olives have been cultivated and grown commercially as far back as 3000 BC by the people of Crete and it was a source of wealth of the Minoan civilization. Ancient Greeks would smear olive oil on their bodies and hair for grooming and health.
After the 16th century, the olive was brought to the New World by the Europeans. Its cultivation began in Mexico, Peru, Chile and Argentina. By the 18th century it found its way to California. Today, some believe there are over 800 million olive trees in the world, with the vast majority still found in the Mediterranean countries.
The olive is harvested in the autumn and winter. Green olives are picked at the end of September to the middle of November. Blond olives are picked from the middle of October to the end of November and the black olives are collected several weeks into winter. The seasons vary to each country. Olives are harvested through the shaking of the boughs or the whole tree. Some harvest the olive by standing on a ladder and ‘milking’ them into a sack tied around their waist. There is also a device called an oli-net that wraps around the tree trunk and opens in the form of an umbrella like catcher from which workers collect the fruit. For large commercial olive growers, an electric tool is used call the oliviera. It has large tongs that spin around quickly, removing the fruit from the tree. Because the fruit is usually damaged, this method is used for the making of oil.
When picking olives for the eating, or what is called ‘table olives’, more care has to be taken as to not damage the fruit. Baskets are hung around worker’s necks and olives are harvested by hand.
Olives are a naturally bitter fruit so it typically is fermented or cured with lye or brine to make it more palatable. The use of natural microflora on the fruit is used to ferment the fruit. This fermentation leads to important outcomes: the leaching out and breakdown of oleuropein and phenolic compounds and the creation of lactic acid, which is a natural preservative. The result is a product which will store with or without refrigeration. American black olives are not fermented, which makes them taste milder than green olives.
Fresh olives are often sold at markets. Olives can be used green, ripe green (a yellower shade of green, or green with hints of color), through to full purple black ripeness. Olives should be selected for general good condition and for firmness if green.
Olives can also be flavored by soaking them in various marinades, or removing the pit and stuffing them. Popular flavorings are herbs, spices, feta, capsicum, chili, lemon zest, lemon juice, garlic cloves, wine, vinegar, juniper berries and anchovies.
The olive and its use has only grown with time – this is possibly why the tree has always been so sacred.
About the Author: Andrew Johnson is the owner of Central Texas Tree Care, a leading provider of Austin tree services in Central Texas. Certified ISA Austin arborist services including: tree trimming, tree removal, tree care and stump removal. For more information on Austin tree service please visit http://www.centraltexastreecare.com.