The olive has always had deep significance in Western thought. One of the first intimations of its religious significance is the dove returning to Noah’s Ark with an olive branch in its mouth, signifying the end of Yahweh’s wrath at his wayward children. All Mediterranean cultures have relied on it for sustenance, for burning in oil lamps, for medicinal purposes, and obviously in the kitchen. They could not have survived without it, and paid homage to it by pouring libations to the gods on libation stones which can still be seen in Crete and all over the ancient world. The olive trees in the Garden of Gethsemane could well have been there in the time of Christ, many of the ancient branches supported by Roman era columns. The tree was known by the ancients as “The Eternal Tree, “ because it regenerates itself from within, a new inner stem growing as the outer is discarded. It is the perfect thing to grow in areas where the grape is grown as they have opposite growing and harvesting cycles.
Culinary uses are many, in tapenades, casseroles, and many kinds of dips which are delicious stirred into pasta—and healthy to boot, much better for your body than animal fats. Olives are delicious to eat but cannot be used, except for olive oil, straight from the tree without pickling. The first Cold Pressed Oil is the best quality and is denoted as Extra Virgin. Further processing, applying heat to extract more oil, adulterates the oil significantly, so look for those words on your oil, which should be stored, but not for long, in dark glass bottles. Never buy olive oil in plastic bottles, as the PVC reacts badly with the acids in the oil. All olives are green to begin with and change colour as they ripen. There are many different kinds—find the ones you like.
The biggest olive oil producer in the world is Spain, at 550 million litres per annum, about a third of world production, followed by Morocco, Turkey , Italy and Greece. South African producers–there are 131 at the moment– are noted for producing some of the best olive oil in the world and the local industry is growing apace. There are many olive oil competitions, mainly in Europe, where South African oils feature prominently, being voted Best in the World at many of them