Monday, October 13, 2008

On the Olive.

I have a very short story today to start to address a sadly neglected (on this blog) topic. The olive. At least a couple of sorts of olives – and I don’t mean green or black.

Let me begin by defining the olive from the tree – or by letting the OED define it for me:

“An evergreen tree, Olea europaea (family Oleaceae), with narrow entire leaves, green above and silvery beneath, and axillary clusters of small whitish flowers; esp. one of the variety O. europaea var. europaea, long cultivated in the Mediterranean region for its fruit and the oil obtained from this.”

Humans worked out how to cultivate the olive before they developed a written language, which shows a thoroughly correct and sensible set of priorities. For millenia it has been a source of nutrition, of wealth, of religious symbolism, of clean soft skin, of medicine, of great salad dressing, and a whole lot of other useful things. And the trees are large and shady and beautiful and live for a very long time indeed, and the wood is lovely too. What more could one tree offer?

Mostly, we just eat olives after the most minimal preparation, but the urge to fiddle with perfection is great, and humans invented the idea of recipes for just that purpose. Today I give you a couple of ideas from Domestic economy, and cookery, for rich and poor, by a lady. 1827 – and note that The Lady suggests the mixture of olives and anchovies as a stomachic, or stomach medicine. I love the idea of orange juice with olives.

Olive Sandwiches.
Stone and pound some olives, either with olive oil or butter. If they have been simply pounded, butter the bread, and spread it over it, or try some slices in olive oil, light crisp, but not hard, and spread the olives, or lay them in patches.
Olives rank next to anchovies, in their digestive and restorative powers for weak stomachs, for which every thing ought to be pounded, as what is often good for them they otherwise are not able to digest.
Olives and anchovies mixed make excellent stomachic sandwiches.

Forced Olives.
Stone the very finest Spanish olives, opening them as little as possible, and fill them with powdered or pounded anchovies, peg them together with a nice small wooden peg, or stitch them, pack them carefully, and cover them with their pickle ; if there is not enough, boil and filter a salt pickle, and add it, or put them in bitter orange or lemon-juice, and cover them with olive oil. Those that are fond of olives, and wish to eat them in perfection, will have the brine poured off, and the bottles filled up with orange-juice and olive-oil. They are prepared in this manner at Morocco.

Tomorrow – Olives of Beef (or Veal) and How They Came By Their Name.

Quotation for the Day …

[Of the olive] The whole Mediterranean, the sculpture, the palm, the gold beads, the bearded heroes, the wine, the ideas, the ships, the moonlight, the winged gorgons, the bronze men, the philosophers -all of it seems to rise in the sour, pungent taste of these black olives between the teeth. A taste older than meat, older than wine. A taste as old as cold water. Lawrence Durrell. Prospero's Cell (1945)


Liz + Louka said...

Orange juice with olives does sound good. It reminds me of a recipe I have somewhere for little savouries: fingers of bread, topped with anchovies, sprinkled with parmesan and grilled, then a seville orange squeezed over. These are delicious.

The Old Foodie said...

What a fantastic-sounding savoury! The only problem would be the availability of Seville oranges. They are only around for about a month (here in Queensland anyway) - in about August, and I buy and freeze them for marmalade. Maybe I could keep a few wedges frozen for this idea?

Liz + Louka said...

I just checked the recipe (it's in Elizabeth David's Spices Salt and Aromatics in the English Kitchen but comes from William Verral's The Cook's Paradise) and find I remembered it slightly wrong. The bread is to be fried, and either orange or lemon juice can be used.

But freezing the Seville oranges does sound like a good idea. Do they maintain their consistency, or do they get a bit squishy? That would make them hard to squeeze. I guess you could just freeze some juice.

Rochelle R. said...

There are lots of olive trees here in San Diego. May years ago I chipped an article from Sunset magazine on how to cure your own olives but I never tried it. It seemed like an awful lot of trouble when you can just pick up a can or bottle at the store.

Anonymous said...

What more could it offer? How about peace? An olive branch... ;)

The Old Foodie said...

An olive branch of peace, of course! An important use indeed.

Barbara said...

Prosperos Cell is my all time fav Durrell book. I always add orange peel when marinating olives.