Monday, September 14, 2009

How about an "olive expedition"?

I have been in larger cities where a big supermarket has a serving bar completely devoted to different types of olives, but it wasn't until I was driving on Interstate 5 in northern California that I came across such an arrangement, with the added advantage that you were allowed to freely sample the various types of olives BEFORE you made your purchase. The place I am speaking of is in the city of Corning, California, and is called "The Olive Pit" ( . You can tell you are in the right place if you look along both sides of I-5, and see mile after mile of olive groves. There is a reference made in the Bible (Job 24:11) to a type of people who are so mistreated that "they are forced to press out the olive oil without tasting it...", but that is certainly NOT the case for those pressing out the oil in this area of olive production in the United States. In fact, anyone can come into The Olive Pit, in Corning, and taste test dozens of types of olives, as well as numerous varieties of olive oil and olive spreads.
You simply point to the bottle containing the type of olive you want to sample, and the courteous employee behind the serving bar will use his handy-dandy "olive-lassoing tool" to retrieve a single olive from the jars of samples, and put it on a napkin for you to try. (Of course, these specialty tools, and a host of other olive-related gadgets are for sale in their store, along with the wide array of olive-based food products.) The scientific name for olive is Olea europaea which is a reference to its native home in the coastal areas of the eastern Mediterranean Basin. In more recent years, California has also become a growing area for this short, squat evergreen tree. According to Wikipedia, it is one of the plants that is most cited in recorded literature. Besides at least 30 Bible references, the plant is mentioned in Homer's Odyssey, as well as the Iliad, numerous Greek mythology stories, and the Quran.
The Roman poet Horace mentions olives in reference to his own diet, saying "As for me, olives, endives, and smooth mallows provide sustenance." The customer shown in photo above looks ready to make a similar choice for herself.
Olive oil has long been considered sacred; it was used to anoint kings and athletes in ancient Greece. It was burnt in the sacred lamps of temples as well as being the "eternal flame" of the original Olympic Games. Victors in these games were crowned with its leaves. Today, it is still used in many religious ceremonies. In the last two decades, there has been a great resurgence of its use in the American diet, largely because of evidence showing the Mediterranean-style diet is more "heart healthy" than the way Americans have been eating for the past century. Perhaps the fact that olive trees can live for a very long time was a clue to some ancient "dietitian" that it might also help people live a long time. There are several trees in the Garden of Gethsemane (from the Hebrew words "gat shemanim" or olive press) in Jerusalem that are claimed to date back to Roman times. Many health food stores sell medicinal teas made from olive leaves. Now that you know all these facts about olives, olive trees, olive oil, and olive leaves (you could even interpret the spelling to be saying---O! LIVE!) Therefore, GO! LIVE! GO OLIVE EXPEDITIONING!! Tricia
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