The olive harvest is in full swing. It began in late September as the dark green fruit matured to a light green. All olives will eventually ripen to black or dark red. Picking the ripe olives in December marks the end of the harvest season.
This is a very labor-intensive task in that it is not mechanized. Tarps are spread under the trees. Then the olives are gently dislodged by the pickers. The tarps are carefully emptied into carts for transport to a processing area.
(Photo: An olive grove)
There are many cultivars of olives, some of which have very little oil. These are destined to be table olives. Fresh olives are very bitter and must be cured to make them palatable. This involves soaking them in brine to remove the chemical oleurepein, which causes the bitterness.
Olive oil is considered a healthy fat because it is high in unsaturated fats and antioxidants. “Virgin” olive oil is extracted at temperatures below 86 degrees using a mechanical press and no chemical solvents. Solvents are used to extract the remaining oil. After the first cold press, however, this oil may not use the term virgin in the label.
Extra virgin olive oil has lower acidity and must pass a taste test. Because it has the best flavor, it a a great choice for salad dressings and for dipping. Incidentally, the thrifty Europeans use pulp from the pressing process as compost around the trees. The pits are dried and used as a fuel.
Ninety percent of the world’s olive oil is produced in Spain, Italy and Greece. It has been a valuable commodity around the Mediterranean Sea for at least 7000 years. In the past, it was not only a food but also used as a lotion and as lamp fuel.
The trees are very long lived. I have heard that a visitor to Israel may see trees that were around during the Roman occupation.
For olive oil connoisseurs, there is a specialty shop in Chattanooga. Olive is a fine oil and balsamic tasting room located at 110 Woodland Avenue in the North Shore area of town. Wish I could say that it has this statue of a certain spinach-eating sailor’s ditzy girlfriend out front!
Master gardener Ann Bartlett can never resist writing a garden column when inspired by random visual culture icons. The Planet has been there. The Planet got the T-shirt. Email Ann at email@example.com.