A short history of olives

By / Food / August 22nd, 2016 / 17

Olives are one of the earliest plants mentioned in ancient literature. Revered as sacred and immortal by the ancients, the olive tree’s origins can be traced to the Mediterranean coast of the Bronze Age. Based on olive pits and wooden fragments found in early tombs, archaeologists believe olives were cultivated at least 6000 years ago.

Its trees, which can live for thousands of years, were long considered symbols of peace, wisdom, purity and power. In Greek mythology, the goddess Athena planted an olive tree in what would later become Athens, giving the Greeks olives for nourishment, oil for lamps and wood for building their homes and boats. Branches were offered to the gods and used to crown the victors of games. Even today, the olive branch remains a symbol of peace and goodwill.

Our ancestors were on target with their affinity for olives — they are super foods, high in vitamin E and other antioxidants and good for the heart.

There are many different varieties, but my favourite is the bright green Castelvetrano, grown in western Sicily. Alas, I have no recipe for this particular olive since nothing can improve its bright, buttery flavour — my advice is to buy a little tub of Castelvetranos and enjoy. I do have a recipe that features my second-favourite — the meaty black Kalamata.



Without the capers and anchovies, this would still be a lovely olivade. Experiment using various olives, both black and green, plus roasted red pepper, artichoke hearts or sundried tomatoes. Tapenade makes a delicious appetizer or stuffing for roasts.


2 cups pitted Kalamata olives

3 canned anchovy fillets

1 tbsp chopped fresh parsley

1 tbsp capers, rinsed, drained and patted dry

1 tbsp fresh lemon juice

1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

1 tsp chopped fresh thyme

1 garlic clove, chopped

Salt and pepper, to taste


Pulse all ingredients in food processor until finely chopped. Serve with sliced, toasted French baguette.

Match: Enjoy with Pernod.




Quench Food Editor, Nancy Johnson, minced, sliced, chopped, sautéed and sipped her way through George Brown College’s culinary program with a focus on food writing and wine. Nancy cooks by the code her Italian grandmother taught her: For the best results, always use the freshest, best ingredients. She writes for Ohio-based Wine Buzz Magazine and recently published a short story in Woman’s World Magazine. She is always on a diet.

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