The Olive is one of the oldest known cultivated trees in the world – being grown before the written language was invented. It was being grown on Crete by 3,000 BC and may have been the source of the wealth of the Minoan kingdom. The Phoenicians spread the olive to the Mediterranean shores of Africa and Southern Europe. Olives have been found in Egyptian tombs from 2,000 years BC. The olive culture was spread to the early Greeks then Romans. As the Romans extended their domain they brought the olive with them.
The olive trees on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem are reputed to be over 2000 years old, still relative newcomers considering the long domestication of the olive. We don’t know the exact variety of the trees on the Mount. Man has manipulated the olive tree for so many thousands of years that it is unclear what varieties came from which other varieties. Varieties in one country have been found to be identical to differently named varieties in another. Some research is now being done using gene mapping techniques to figure out the olive family tree. Shrub-like “feral” olives still exist in the Middle East and may represent the original stock from which all other olives are descended.
When first harvested the olives are too bitter to eat. A process of curing takes place over several months at which point they can be either eaten or stored in brine to keep them or transport them. In this state they can last perfectly well for up to two years.
Did you know…
In a recent study the people of Crete were found to consume more olive oil per person per year than any other country in the world. The amount per person per year?…a staggering 31 litres! Possibly one of the first olive presses used in the world was found on the island of Crete. It dates
to around 1600 B.C.
In ancient Greece at ‘the games’ the top athletes of the day were given ‘winner’s olive oil’ (similar to what we know as extra virgin oil). This was much better quality and more expensive than common oil. Of course no-one would buy this higher grade oil to eat; instead it was used for anointing the bodies of rich young athletes. Nice work if you can get it!
In ancient Greece if you destroyed an Olive tree the penalty was…. death!
Greece has olive trees numbering in excess of 132,000,000!