Until I traveled around the Mediterranean and Middle East, my primitive passion for olives was limited to brined black olives from a can (which I learned are actually picked green and oxidized to give them their ebony color – yes, even the so-called “ripe” ones) as well as those little green olives stuffed with pimento strips and served on every Midwestern holiday relish tray snug between the baby dills and the radish rosettes. (There was the occasional garlic clove stuffed green olive if I felt particularly fancy). However, my globe-trotting adventures opened a whole new olive world to me – dozens upon dozens of different varieties. Who knew!
In Crete I was treated to Megaritiki olives in both their black, salty, oily, dried form (reminded me a little of prunes in appearance) and the unripe, slightly sour, cracked green variety along with rich blackish purple Kalamatas with and without pits, giant green Gaidourolias, and more. In the UAE I was served a bowl of cashews, almonds and pistachios and a second dish filled with nearly every shade and size of olives imaginable each time I sat down to eat - before I even ordered. I was in olive heaven!
Alas, all good things must come to an end, and I returned home. While I smuggled in tins of olive oil from Crete and Malta, I didn’t bring any olives. To my surprise, I began to notice olives everywhere. Maybe they’d always been there, but I soon discovered a wide variety of choices available in delis and on grocery store “olive bars.” I was delighted to have found my fix of these foreign fruits.
Fruits? What? Yes, olives (Olea europaea) - their large pit frequently removed to make room for almonds, anchovies, feta cheese, or fingers - are fruits (specifically they are drupes which are fruits with large pits or stones like avocados, cherries and peaches). Olives are available in thousands of different cultivars and are fruits of an evergreen tree or bush grown in generally warm, dry areas of the world like the Mediterranean, parts of Africa…and California.
I was vacationing in The Golden State when I was fortunate enough to find a tasty place by the name of the Olive Pit. Located in Corning, California – just off I-5 exit 631 – this little shop is a full service olive stop. Alongside a mind-blowing inventory of pickled vegetables, vinegars, sauces, dips, nuts, oils and spices sit well over 100 breeds, variations and flavors of olives – including a magnificently monstrous 15 pound can of Musco Family Black Pearls fit for fingertips large and small. Especially special, though, is my hands-down favorite…the fabled Graber Olive.
Graber olives are unique in the fact that they truly are tree-ripened before brining (unlike the aforementioned black olive). These large, almost round, globes of goodness sport a variegated green/reddish brown color and a soft, mild flavor that is…well, it is indescribable. Even at $6 a can, I can say without reservation these succulent beauties are worth the price. I guarantee it. They are always the first thing eaten when I feature them on an antipasto platter.
My hands are much bigger than when I delighted in sticking black olives on each finger and there are so many more kinds of olives to love, but I was glad to find the Olive Pit Super Colossal size fit exceptionally well on my grown-up fingers – and even thumbs.
Here are a few random olive facts courtesy of http://www.olives.com/
~It is generally believed that the first olive trees came from countries surrounding the Mediterranean Sea.
~The Bible refers to the olive tree as the "king of trees" and the "tree of life." Indeed, the cultivation of olives predates any written language.
~Spanish Missionaries brought the olive tree to North America in the 1700's.
~California boasts 1,200 olive growers growing approximately 35,000 acres of olives.
~Each extra large olive only has 7 calories
~Olives are cholesterol free and contain large amounts of monounsaturated fat which is thought to lower artery clogging LDL-cholesterol and raise beneficial HDL levels.
(Graber Olive can picture courtesy of the Olive Pit website)
Make a pit stop at the Pit: http://www.olivepit.com/
Grab a Graber: http://graberolives.com/