Olives have been a staple in many parts of the world for 1000’s of years. Whether they be in whole form, oil or as a beauty or health product. The fact that we eat them at all is amazing. Think about it for a second. When you take an olive off a tree it is hard, sour and basically inedible, it takes patience to extract the bitterness to make it edible.
It is said that the farming of olives may date back as long as 6000 years ago. Spreading from Asia Minor to Iran, Syria and Palestine to the rest of the Mediterranean basin. The culture of the olive though was probably spread by the early Greek and Roman empires. As these mega-powers spread their influence around the world, they also spread their knowledge and love of the olive to those countries that they conquered.
In Israel there are many olive groves. They have often been in the same family for generations, passed down and divided from father to children, very rarely sold, even as the plots get smaller and smaller. These olive groves are treated with great reverence, they are tended with utmost care. Around November you see extended families gather, the very old to the very young, they come early in the morning, they spread sheets under the trees and beat the trees with sticks, the olives cascade down and are collected. It is beautiful to see how families join each other, turning hard work into a special occasion.
Of course there are modern machines that shake the trees but most groves in Israel are too small to make it worth investing in the machinery. People also like to stick to their traditions.
There are a few ways of curing the olives to make them edible. The most commonly used one involves them being cleaned and then soaked in a salt water and brine mixture for a number of weeks with adjustments made to the solution as time goes on. They are then rinsed and packaged often in tins to give them a longer shelf life although the curing process itself acts as a preservative.
Sometimes extra flavourings are added to the olives during the curing process or they are marinated in olive oil for extra taste. Some people use herbs, chilis or lemon to enhance the flavor.
As olives have become popular, they are much easier to find on the shelves in tinned form but there is also a growing demand for a more refined and traditional product. These can be found in jars, plastic tubs or even from the delicatessen section in the store.
Growers take a great deal of care in maintaining their family tradition and many, such as Saba Habib, based in the Galilee, Israel are proud of their product and try to sell them as a premium product worldwide.
So the Mediterranean staple has become a fashionable side dish, marinade, spread and addition throughout the world.