Spot­light on olives

Olives and olive oil are at the heart of Ital­ian cui­sine, where meals are lov­ingly shared with fam­ily and friends and never rushed.

The Australian Women’s Weekly Food Magazine - - Contents -

OLIVES

Their home is land bounded by or close to the Mediter­ranean Sea. Most of the pic­turesque, gnarled tree spec­i­mens are hun­dreds of years old and still pro­duc­tive. How­ever, mas­sive new groves are con­stantly be­ing planted to cope with the ex­pand­ing world de­mand for olive oil.

Olives vary in size and colour, but there are scores of cul­ti­vars that will pro­vide you with just the type to suit your gar­den. Olives are not palat­able straight from the tree, but have to be brined be­fore use. They can then be bot­tled in brine or oil, pit­ted, filled or eaten salted.

Green olives are firm and tangy. They’re avail­able stone-in or stoned and stuffed, usu­ally with pimiento (cap­sicum), al­mond or an­chovy.

They come in sizes from fin­ger­nail to cherry tomato. The big­gest, sold as Span­ish or queen olives, are the best size if you want to stuff them your­self with some­thing in­ter­est­ing, such as tuna or pre­served le­mon. They’re dif­fi­cult to stone by hand, so if stoned ones are called for in a recipe, buy your­self a gad­get known as a cherry-stoner or olive-pit­ter, which punches out the stone leav­ing a neat hole.

Black olives have a richer and more mel­low flavour than green olives and are softer in tex­ture. They’re avail­able plain and not usu­ally iden­ti­fied by va­ri­ety, ex­cept for pointed kala­matas and small, wrin­kled lig­uri­ans. Black olives are also sold in many kinds of mari­nades, from gar­lic and herbs to le­mon and chilli.

IN THE GAR­DEN

An olive tree’s chief re­quire­ment is well-drained soil with enough depth of soil for its roots to hold, even though an olive tree is pre­dom­i­nantly a sur­face rooter.

Keep olive trees well mulched (straw, de­cay­ing grass clip­pings, leaf mulch, even rocks) dur­ing hot, dry sum­mers to keep mois­ture around the roots. For a pro­duc­tive life, olive trees need pro­tec­tion from win­ter winds. They grow to four or five me­tres quickly. Most olive trees can sur­vive frosts, oc­ca­sional snow­falls and even hot, dry sum­mers, as long as there is reg­u­lar rain or wa­ter­ing from mid-au­tumn through to mid-spring. There are also va­ri­eties that do well in sub­trop­i­cal and warm-tem­per­ate ar­eas. Olive trees can also be grown in large pots for a dra­matic dis­play, though they will pro­duce only a mod­est crop.

Fra­grant olive clus­ters ap­pear in early sum­mer af­ter the tree’s first three to four years of growth. The berries fill out over sum­mer. They can be har­vested green, by run­ning your hands down the fruit-laden stems, but are eas­ier to pick when ripe and black be­cause they nat­u­rally fall off the tree.

In olive groves, sheets are spread un­der the trees and the branches are shaken with a me­chan­i­cal grip­per that har­vests the en­tire crop at once. For the home gar­dener, vig­or­ously shak­ing the branches is suf­fi­cient to re­lease the ripe olives, so they can be picked up from your drop­sheet. You can also sim­ply pick up the olives as they fall, ready for brin­ing.

It’s best to ask at your nurs­ery for rec­om­mended cul­ti­vars for your area, or go on­line for mail or­der sup­pli­ers. One or a few olive trees make an in­ter­est­ing project for the keen gar­dener, al­low­ing you to con­tinue the an­cient tra­di­tion of pre­serv­ing olives at home. Be aware, though, that you’ll need a whole grove to keep your kitchen in olive oil for the year!

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