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Olive Trees in Italy











In Italy and the Mediterranean Basin

Uses and Preparation - Recipes

Romans and Greeks


Some Facts about Olive Oil











































In Italy and the Mediterranean Basin

Central and Southern Italy and Liguria are covered with olive trees and olive groves, as is most of the Mediterranean basin.

There are estimated to be over 500 million olive trees around the Mediterranean basin, representing 98% of the olive trees in the world.

The trees love the warm weather, and manage to survive with little water in rocky soil.  Their average life span is 500 years, but they can live up to 1500 years.


Uses and Preparation

For centuries, the olive tree has provided the Mediterranean basin with:

  • oil for lamps, ointments and cooking,
  • fruit as a rich addition to the diet (10 olives have roughly 50 calories and 4 grams of fat, 142 calories per 100grams, very high in vitamin A),
  • wood for fuel, furniture and artwork (holy family figurines from the holy land are among the most evocative), and
  • shade in the hot climate.

Olives can be prepared in a variety of ways:

  • cured (treated with lye or salt or water, then pickled in brine)
  • roasted (after cured, become dry with intense flavor)
  • pressed into oil or a pulp 

Olives can be eaten in a variety of ways:

  • cured (pickled, with flavorings)
  • cured and stuffed
  • as oil (for cooking or as a dressing)
  • in breads or on pizzas
  • in dishes (as a seasoning)
  • as spreads (tapenada)

Greek olives are generally not treated with lye so they have a stronger flavor.  They are packed in dry salt or pickled in brine for 6 to 12 months in which they undergo fermentation.  Then they are packed in fresh brine or further flavored or roasted. 

Spanish green olives are picked before they are ripe (generally olives turn black when ripe), treated with lye, then pickled in brine where they ferment.  Many are later pitted and stuffed with pimento. California black olives are cured the same way, but air is pumped into the mixture to turn the green olives black.

The Spanish also make a paste of olives and use it as a spread on bread:  tapenadas.  Olive paste is also used as a seasoning in dishes adding a rich under-taste.

It is not difficult to cure your own olives.  Here are 3 simple ways.


Olives in Herbed Brine

Put freshly harvested green olives in a crockery bowl and cover with water.

Change the water every day for 30 days.

Then follow the normal procedures for preserving food in jars (sterilizing the jars, etc.), to store your olives covered in a brine made as follows.

Boil together for 5 minutes water and salt (1 teaspoon per liter or pint).

Poor the brine over the olives in the jars, and then add some herbs such as whole peppercorns and/or fennel seeds.

Put the lids on properly, and let them cure for 1 month.


Olives in Herbed Oil

Puncture the skins of freshly harvested green olives with a toothpick.

Take a large flat dish and cover it with a kitchen towel.

Spread the olives over the towel, and then cover them with coarse salt. 

Leave them for 3 days for the salt to remove water from the olives.

Wash the olives well, and let them dry overnight on a clean towel.

Now you can store the olives in jars following the usual procedures for sterilization of the jars.

Cover the olives in the jars with olive oil, and season with some whole peppercorns and/or fennel seeds.


Oven Cured Black Olives

Prick the skins of the freshly harvested black olives with a toothpick.

Put the olives in a crockery bowl and cover with water.

Change the water each day for 10 days.

Drain the olives and let them dry overnight on a clean towel.

Put the olives in a flat baking sheet and sprinkle them with salt.

Bake for 10 hour in a hot oven.  They will shrivel up, concentrating the flavor.

Store the olives in sterilized jars.  Covered the olives in olive oil, and season with some oregano, hot peppers, and garlic cloves.


Romans and Greeks

The Romans planted plenty of trees around their empire.  The Roman statesman Pliny wrote: Except the vine, there is no plant which bears a fruit of as great importance as the olive.

These Roman-era (200A.D.) mural images of a fall olive harvest and press come from southern France.

The Greeks said olive trees were a gift from the goddess Athena, and named Athens after her in gratitude.

The olive branch is the universal symbol of peace, and the Bible's Noah found land when the dove arrived with an olive branch. 



Olives come in several hundred varieties varying in taste, color, size, oil content.  But new groves are generally planted with up to 13 of the more productive or hardy varieties. (From For more information and more varieties in Italian see's olive page.)

  • Arbequina
  • Blanqueta
  • Cornicabra
  • Empeltre
  • Farga
  • Hojiblanca
  • Lechin de Sevilla
  • Lucio
  • Manzanilla Cacerena
  • Picual
  • Picudo
  • Royal de Cazorla
  • Verdial de Velez Malaga



Some facts about olive oil

  • Olives go through several pressings, each descending in flavor and increasing in acidic level.  
  • They can be blended or virgin (from one pressing from one batch of olives).  
  • They can be filtered and unfiltered.  Unfiltered is more flavorful but should be used within one year.  Filtered can be stored longer.
  • Olive oil should be stored in a cool, dark place, and preferably in a colored bottle.  
  • Once the bottle is opened, the oil begins to oxidize in contact with oxygen.  So once opened, it should be used within a few months.  
  • It does not require refrigeration.
  • Green colored olive oil generally means the olives were pressed before they were completely ripened.

There has been much talk of the health benefits of olives and olive oil in the last years.  It is now known that olive oil protects the heart against heart disease by actively lowering cholesterol levels


If you'd like more on olives, here's a link to a self-confessed olive fanatic.




Rave reviews for this book at Amazon:



More rave reviews for this vegetarian recipe book and history of cooking around the Mediterranean basin and beyond:




And this passionate history and recipe book: