“The olive tree, Olea europaea, valued for both its beauty and its fruit, has been a part of Mediterranean civilization since before recorded history.” Joseph H. Connell, in The Olive Production Manual
On French meals in the brasseries of Paris: “The pommes a l’huile were firm and marinated and the olive oil delicious. I ground black pepper over the potatoes and moistened the bread in the olive oil. After the first heavy draft of beer I drank and ate very slowly.” Ernest Hemingway, in A Moveable Feast
When you have finished planting an olive tree, “Give the new tree a generous drink, and maybe have one yourself.” Michael Burr, in Australian Olives
In her charming Under The Tuscan Sun (Bantam, 1998), Frances Mayes says of the original ‘Nonna’ of her Tuscan home, “Nonna’s most essential, elemental ingredient surely was olive oil. Her woodstove was fired with the prunings; she dipped her bread in a plate of oil for toast, she doused her soups and pasta sauces with her lovely green oil. Cloth sacks of olives hung in the chimney to smoke over the winter. Even her soap was made from oil and the ashes from her fireplace.” (78)
The Bible: Olive trees and olive oil are featured in the first and last books of the Bible, and in many places along the way. The successive references to olives form an interesting story in themselves.
(i) The first reference is in the book of Genesis, in the story of Noah’s Ark and the great flood which covered the whole earth. After the forty days and nights of rain came to an end, Noah tried to find out whether the flood was abating. So “He sent forth the dove out of the ark; and the dove came in to him in the evening; and lo, in her mouth was an olive leaf pluckt off; so Noah knew that the waters were abated from off the earth” (Genesis, ch 8, verse 10-11).
(ii) The next reference is in the book of Exodus, regarding the Tabernacle which Moses was to tell the children of Israel to make. “And thou shalt command the children of Israel, that they bring thee pure oil olive beaten for the light, to cause the lamp to burn always” (Exodus, 27, 20). Moses was later told to add myrrh and cinnamon and other spices to olive oil, and to tell the children of Israel that “This shall be an holy anointing oil unto me throughout your generations” (Exodus, 30, 31)
(iii) The next reference is in the book of Deuteronomy, where Moses is told that the land into which God will bring his people will be “A good land,… a land of oil olive”, as well as a land of wheat and barley and vines, of fig trees and pomegranates, and of honey (Deut, 8, 8).
(iv) Then, in the book of Hosea, where God calls on Israel to repent, the promise is made to Israel that “His branches shall spread, and his beauty shall be as the olive tree” (Hosea, 14, 6).
(v) Moving to the New Testament, St Paul, in his letter to the Romans, makes the olive tree a metaphor for salvation. He says that “If the root be holy, so are the branches. And if some of the branches be broken off, and thou, being a wild olive tree, were grafted in among the branches, and with them partook of the root and fatness of the olive tree, boast not against the branches” (Romans, 11, 16-18).
(vi) Finally, the book of Revelation states that “These are the two olive trees, and the two candlesticks standing before the God of the earth. And if any man will hurt them, fire proceedeth out of their mouth, and devoureth their enemies.” (Revelation, 11, 4-5).