Friday, 17 April 2015

O: "The richest gift of heaven"

Bearing in mind the name of this blog there should be no need to guess what the O reason to be cheerful is going to be. Yes, it's the olive tree.

The quote for the title of this post came from Thomas Jefferson, the third president of the United States. He said: "The olive tree is surely the richest gift of heaven" and you don't have to know much about these remarkable tree to think he might well have had a point.

I do genuinely live in an olive grove. All told my landlord has about 250 trees and he lavishes great care on them, in return for which he gets olives, oil and firewood. Rest assured that if he did not look after his trees they would not yield their bounty. Granted he might get a bit of firewood, but by looking after the trees he can even ensure that the firewood will continue to replenish.

Olive trees have been playing a part in human life for thousands of years. They get a mention in Greek mythology, the Bible and even Shakespeare. And let's face it, olive trees probably weren't a common sight in 16th century Warwickshire.

The view IN the olive grove.

Anyone who has gone down a supermarket aisle, looked at the range of olive oils on offer and thought they were rather expensive should first spend some time on the olive harvest. I have done and it's hard work and I'm not just saying that because I'm some sort of workshy fop, although I am.

Olives can be picked when green for processing in to green olives. I know that sounds obvious, but bear with me. Or you can wait for them to ripen until they become a purply-black which can then be processed in to black olives. There is a whole range of methods for processing olives so the above description is simplistic to say the least.

And then, of course, there is the collection of olives for pressing to get oil. While in some commercial groves there is machinery which collects olives, the traditional way is basically to either knock them from the tree or let them fall in to nets. Then you bag them up, get them pressed and hope that your olives will yield that glorious green peppery oil that is so wonderful you only have to drizzle some over good bread and you've made a delicious meal.

In two paragraphs I've made it all sound quite straightforward. Sadly, it is not and this autumn/winter just gone, when there was expected to be an olive harvest - they come every two years in this part of Greece - a combination of olive fruit fly and heavy rain wrecked the harvest. The problem was not just confined to here, but occurred throughout the Mediterranean. The result of this is that prices have gone up.

So this is a reason to be cheerful, but also to be thankful for when things go well and a bit more accepting when they do not.

I've found a nice film about the importance of the olive tree. It also happens to show a little bit of how olives are harvested. It's in Greek, but don't worry there are English subtitles.

I've struggled to find a song about olive trees apart from one in Chinese which I'll confess I wasn't very keen on. As a result I've chosen Harvest for the World by the Isley Brothers, which is a fine song and seems to share some of the sentiments of the film about olive trees.

  • Question: Olive oil, an essential item in your kitchen, or are you perfectly happy with a dollop of lard? Also, if they press olives to make olive oil, how do they make baby oil? Tell me more in the comments section below.


  1. We use olive oil a lot. As well as the usual virgin, extra virgin etc we always have one infused with garlic which is brilliant for, well, garlicky things.Love the baby oil joke!

  2. Hi Mark - I love olive oil and do know the basic history behind the trees - I'm sure I was aware that the olive harvest last year was very poor - hadn't realised there was an olive fruit fly and a very wet harvest ...

    I imagine it is very hard work gathering up the olives ... I think I'll stay here!

    I use olive oil or butter ... baby oil .. I've no idea - I was going to say palm oil .. not coconut as it would smell too much ...

    Cheers Hilary

  3. What a wonderful movie on the olive tree! It was very heartwarming. And I also believe that trees have souls. It's nice to see the olive tree is so revered there. I love olives: all kinds of olives, black, green, calamata, etc. And I use olive oil all the time, much moreso than vegetable or canola oil. You're so right: you have a great meal with just a bit of olive oil drizzled over bread! Yum. Now I'm hungry... :)
    Michele at Angels Bark

  4. How wonderful to live in an olive grove. Are there lots of doves? I love olive oil - I mostly use extra virgin - and I love good quality oil with garlic on freshly baked bread. *wipes drool* I'm not very keen on eating green olives, but I do love black ones. I used to put one on the end of each of my fingers to eat them when I was a kid! It's a shame about the poor harvest. Hopefully the next one will be better. I have often wondered about the baby oil thing; I often wonder about suntan oil as well. Ick.


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