Olives: in Literature, Gardening, Cooking and More

Olive…Oil, and so much more. 

Olive Oyl was Popeye the Sailor Man’s girlfriend. She looked after Sweet Pea, was pursued by Brutus, and frequently provided the impetus for a variety of plotlines, all culminating with Popeye gulping a can of spinach. 

What does that have to do trees? Glad you asked. Olives, oleo europaea, are a primary source of cold-pressed vegetable oil. Olive oil is used for cooking, making salads, was possibly the oil for the lamps of the Seven Virgins of legend, is a base ingredient for a wide variety of cosmetics and skin creams, and you can even use it to quiet a squeaky hinge. Around ninety percent of all olives commercially grown are used in oil.

 The other ten percent, of commercially grown olives, is served as food. Visit your local supermarket and you will find pickled olives, stuffed olives, olives with pits and without pits, green olives and black olives. Some of the tinned or bottled olives are broken bits perfect for adding to your pizza or salad, while others are whole fruits that add that elegant touch to a salad or that can simply be served in your best relish dish. 

None of those things happen without olive trees. Originating in the Mediterranean area, olive trees are now grown all over the world, especially in locations that have mild, but slightly chilly winters and hot summers. They are a vigorous, ever-green tree of moderate height. They easily adjust to a wide variety of conditions and soils, providing dense shade, fragrant blossoms, and a proliferation of berries. The trunks become gnarled with age, making each tree a unique conversational piece. This characteristic makes them the perfect tree to use as bonsai, topiary, or even to espalier against a garden wall. 

If you choose to grow an olive tree, the best way to keep it from becoming a nuisance is to regularly harvest the fruit, something you are likely to want to do anyway since olives can be used in so many different ways. In addition, select a place where you know you will truly want a tree because they are nearly impossible to remove once established. Even if heavily damaged by frost, or simply cut down, an olive tree will put back up from the roots. 

An olive tree’s fresh fruit is far from table-ready. Olives must be pickled or soaked in brine before they are ready to use. Legend has it that originally the fruits fell into the salty brine of the Mediterranean, thus giving the people who lived there a clue as to how to make them edible. This is similar to the way people often speculate as to how humans learned to cook things, especially wild gathered items that sometimes require elaborate preparation to make them edible. 

Regardless of how you consider its history, the olive has become a modern day cooking staple. 

Even if you are not interested in backyard edibles, an olive tree makes an excellent feature tree. Its elegant silver grey bark, small evergreen leaves, delicate blossoms and richly colored fruit add up to a lovely feature tree whether you grow it directly in your garden or orchard area, or whether you maintain a pruned-back topiary or bonsai potted olive tree. 

Speaking of pots, when you combine your indoor olive tree, especially for those who live in areas where the winter temperatures are just a little too cool for these Mediterranean natives, a GRC pot is the perfect container for trees of all kinds. 

They are lightweight, yet strong, and are available in a wide variety of shapes, sizes, colors, and styles. You are certain to be able to locate the perfect color and style for your indoor olive tree. 

Were not all these things enough, the olive tree has long been the symbol of honoring people, celebrating triumphs, and even promoting peace. As the year wheel turns around, and the Julian calendar indicates that the year 2020 is coming to an end, what better way to celebrate the beginning of 2021, or any other New Year, than to give a living gift that symbolizes peace and goodwill? Why extend an olive branch, when you can give the whole tree, already prepared to decorate a patio or living room. 

There are a variety of sayings, literary references, and even mentions of olive trees in religious texts. Here is a quotation from the French chef, Alain Ducasse, that in many ways sums up both olives in cooking and olive trees in landscaping, “If my cuisine was to be defined by just one taste, it would be that of subtle, aromatic, extra-virgin olive oil.” Subtle, aromatic, and goes with just about anything. That sums up olives and olive trees. 






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