Those who do not instinctively associate the word “Olive” with the Popeye films and cartoons will straight away form a picture of a small Mediterranean tree, or of the oily fruit that derives from it and which is a staple part of many popular dishes from that part of the world.
Indeed the olive is almost solely Mediterranean in origin, emanating mostly as it does from Southern Europe, West Asia and North Africa. However many non-Mediterranean countries with a similar climate, including several in South America, now harvest it.
For a small tree and a modest fruit the olive boasts a distinguished history. In the Bible it and its tree are mentioned over thirty times, in both Testaments. It was when Noah received the dove with the olive leaf, for example, that he realised the big flood was finally over.
It also receives several mentions in the Quran. The Prophet Mohammed is alleged to have said “Take oil of olive and massage with it – it is a blessed tree”.
Many Athenians have it that the first olive grew in Athens. At the original Olympic Games the oil of the olive burned in the “Eternal Flame”, and it was also used to anoint sundry worthies, whether kings or successful athletes. Not to be outdone the ancient Egyptians used olive branches in rituals involving powerful leaders and deities. Some were even found in Tutankhamen’s tomb.
Our main interest in the olive these days is in the edible quality of its fruit. We are familiar with green olives and black olives (in essence just over-ripe green olives), along with their oil which we use for cooking as well as for flavour.
At Eco, one of the most renowned and popular restaurants close to Clapham picture house in South London, delicious olives form an integral part of our culinary portfolio. Whether one is enjoying our aubergine sun-dried pizza or a traditional Napoletana, they are there to be savoured. Or indeed they are available as a stand-alone side dish.
It is a tribute to this hardy fruit that it has made its way intact from the historic empires of Southern Europe, through the Biblical lands and the mystical desert kingdoms to South London, just along the road from the Common. Enjoy!