The History of Olives

Purple olives on the tree.

  • Crete and Syria were the first countries to cultivate Olea europaea (the olive tree) over 5,000 years ago
  • The word olive evolved from the Greek elaiwa to elia to maslina to olajbogyo to oliva and finally, olive
  • Culinary uses of olive oil include cooking oil, bread dips and salad dressing
  • Other uses of olive oil include lotions, soaps, body oil, medicinal purposes, hair and skin tonic, salve, annointment oil and lamp oil
  • Olive branches have come to symbolize peace, longevity, fertility, maturity, wealth and prosperity
  • The olive tree has inspired artists, who tried to capture the emerald and silver hues of the leaves shimmering against an azure Mediterranean sky or the gnarled and twisted branches that withstand the ages, as many olive trees date back hundreds of years
  • The Impressionists – Renoir, Matisse, Cezanne and Van Gogh – were especially enamored of the olive tree and its bounty
  • Much has been written over the years about the olive – references to the tree and its fruit can be found in works by Shakespeare, Milton, Byron and Bates

An Expanding World Market

  • The cultivation of olive trees expanded – to Egypt, Lebanon, Iberia, Greece, Carthage (Tunis), Arabia, Italy, Spain and France – trees were prized for their oil and wood
  • Over the centuries, olive trees were brought to The Caribbean, Peru, Chile, Argentina, Brazil, Mexico and finally in 1769 to California

Cultivation in California

  • Eight California counties have the Mediterranean climate necessary to produce olives
  • Olives can be grown on farms of moderate size (15-20 acres)
  • Olives are hand-harvested and require pruning and tilling

Corning, California

  • Two primary varieties of olives were planted in Corning, California in 1904 – the Mission variety and Sevillanos from the vicinity of Seville, Spain
  • Mission trees soon bore the traditional small fruit
  • Much later the Sevillanos started producing the Queens – the largest olives yet seen
  • Today, several delicious olive varieties are grown in Corning – come in and browse or order on-line – Olive Pit features a wide array of many of these olives and other unique products

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