All about Olives

The Olive tree – One of the oldest, hardiest and known for is longevity. Olive trees grow for hundreds of years. Each year the gnarled tree will develop fresh new shoots in the spring which blossom and form its fruit for harvesting in the late Autumn, early Winter. Eventually as the slow growing tree matures and ages it will produce shoots from its base which can become the beginning of new trees: an everlasting tree.

The “Olea”, its botanical name, produces one of the worlds most healthy foods. We all know Olive Oil is healthy and certainly enjoy olives with an aperitif, but there are so many more benefits that perhaps we are not aware of. However, one thing is for sure, never taste the olive straight from the tree, the bitterness is memorable!

The Health Benefits

  • Did you know the humble Olive can?
  • Decrease pain
  • It has Cardiovascular benefits
  • It is a good source of Iron
  • It can assist in Weight loss
  • It helps improve the condition of the Skin and Hair
  • It is helpful for Macular disease
  • It’s useful for a healthy Digestive Tract

In brief 

Pain – The oil Oleocanthal has anti-inflammatory quality that can help reduce pain.  

Cardiovascular – Black olives can impede the development of bad cholesterol which helps fat build up within the arteries. Whilst black olives do contain fat it is a monounsaturated, which helps increase the good cholesterol.

Iron – Black olives have a high Iron content which helps with energy levels  and helps support our immune system.

Weight loss – Tests have shown consuming monounsaturated fats, found in olives, can results in people eating fewer calories. The tests showed that they can produce higher levels of serotonin, a so-called satiety hormone that makes us feel full. Olive oil has been shown to help breakdown fat cells around the stomach.

Hair and Skin – Black olives are rich in Vitamin E, an essential vitamin for the prevent of skin cancer and premature ageing. Add a few drops of olive oil to your bath, or drop onto your shower sponge, if possible allow to soak into your skin. Mix a little olive oil to an egg yolk as a conditioner, before washing your hair.

Macular disease – As a good source of Vitamin A, olives taken daily can aid night vision, and be beneficial for the delay in age related eye problems such as glaucoma and macular degeneration.

Digestive Tract – With its Vitamin E content and monounsaturated fats the black olive can help the condition of the digestive tract. They are also a good source of fibre. Daily absorption of Olive oil can also assist in the flow of the tract, balancing the micro-organisms needed for a healthy digestive system.

Harvesting

Harvesting the olives in Provence and the south of France takes place towards the end of November and can continue in some areas until early Spring, depending on location and seasonal weather conditions. Officially the 25th November, the Feast of Sainte Catherine Labouré is the first day that olives are harvested, but of course in reality it will depend on the fruit and if they are ripe and ready for picking. How the olives are picked depends again on the size of the orchard, or if they are individual trees. It can be labour intensive on a large orchard but many locals will tie purpose made nets which sit under the tree or are tied under the branches to prevent the olives from falling on the ground. Others will simply lay sheets under the tree. Once all the fruit has fallen or been picked, they are gathered up and taken to the local Olive mill ‘co-operative’ for processing.

The olive trees will then be cut back after the frosts, usually by the end of February, into a wine glass shape with the large branches at the base forming the shape, and allowing the light to penetrate the middle of the tree and promote fresh new growth for the forthcoming season.

Curing Olives

Ensure that your olives are clean, free from infection, insects or damage. With a sharp knife, make a cross in the top of each olive to allow the water to penetrate.

Place your olives in a large plastic food lidded container, cover with water and ensure they are full immersed, perhaps weighting them down. Lightly cover with the lid and place in a dark place with no daylight. At least once a day change the water, rinse the olives, and repeat the process. Do this for 7 days, then check an olive to see if the bitterness has been removed. If not, continue the daily process as necessary.

Once ready prepare your finishing brine. Take 2 litres of water, 200g of salt, ¾ cup of white wine vinegar. These quantities are suitable for 2-2.5kg of olives. Place the olives in a storage jar and cover with the brine. They will store in the refrigerator for up to a year.

Cooking

Whatever the variety, Extra Virgin Olive Oil is the most pure, a clean taste and the lowest level of acidity. Some chefs will say not to cook with Olive oil as its qualities and aromas “disappear up the chimney”. They claim that Olive Oil should be used for added to the finished dish or drizzling on salads, soups, or simply enjoyed as a dip sauce with fresh bread. Of course, Olive Oil is included in almost all Mediterranean cooking. It is also a known fact that the Mediterranean diet is one of the healthiest in the world and we have already explained its attributes.

Olive Oil Dip

200ml of Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 tsp of crushed garlic
Zest of 2 lemons
2 sprigs rosemary
½ tsp chilli flakes
2 tsps of chopped parsley
Crushed salt to taste

Bring oil, garlic, lemon zest, chilli flakes and rosemary to a simmer, do not allow to boil. Continue to simmer for 2 minutes, take off the heat and allow to infuse and cool.  Remove the rosemary springs, add the chopped parsley, season with salt and serve with a bread of your choosing.

Olive Parmesan

200g Black olives – chopped
1 crushed garlic clove
1 tsp of dried basil
1 tbsp of Olive Oil
3 tbsp of grated parmesan
Seasoning to taste

Mix all the ingredients, place in the refrigerator for an hour or so before serving on small slices of toasted baguette.

Published November 2016