Thursday, 28 October 2010

All Things Olive

At some point in any tour, you are likely to be given retail opportunities.  I've no idea how these things are arranged, but some lucky business gets coaches outside their place.  One of the places we stopped sold crafts and honey, their own homemade wine, flavoured vinegars and olive oil.  They were generous with their samples and Bill ended up buying a jar of honey.  The wine was actually very nice and, at 4 bottles for 10 Euros, a bargain to boot, but we just took the honey.  We've brought local produce home before and it never tastes as good in Britain as it did where it was made.  You don't realise how much sun and warmth add to the taste of food; nevertheless, honey seemed a reasonably safe bet.  As cynical as I sound about these little tours I generally do feel beholden to make some contribution to the local economy when I visit, particularly a place not quite as wealthy as Britain or the US.

Another place we stopped was at an olive oil factory.  There a woman proceeded to lecture us on the process but as I couldn't hear or understand a word she said I was pleased to be shown a film that compared the old traditional methods with the modern factory approach.

Basically the olives are picked, cleaned and completely  smashed up into a paste.  A centrifuge is then used to separate the oil.  The paste that is left is made into things like soap (which I cannot recommend; we bought some years ago and it was not nice.)  


There was a bowl of crushed pits indicating that was about the only waste product...but I'd bet they find a use for it, like building roads or making little statues or something.  This explanation of making olive oil is probably a bit more accurate than mine.  


I didn't bother with the finer details about 'virgin', 'extra-virgin', 'cold pressed' etc.  They manage to hike the price in the supermarket with some of those labels I've noticed and personally I can't tell the difference in taste.  So far as I know they all have about the same number of calories.  Further more, though I can't claim to have read the studies themselves, I've always heard that the Mediterranean diet is very good for you because of the tomatoes, the olive oil and the high consumption of fish.  


I'm not aware of any claims that only Greeks or Italians who consume extra expensive olive oil benefit from such a diet.  Until I hear something of that ilk from a reliable source (ie one, among other things, not selling olive oil) I'll assume that those phrases have more to do with marketing than health.  In any case, we like olive oil and so Bill bought a litre in a tall tin bottle.


At some point we drove past the village of Ex Hora, where the guide pointed out a huge olive tree reputed to be some 2,000 years old.  I was thinking she had said it was the world's oldest, but as Wikipedia points out, such claims can be contentious and perhaps I mis-heard her.  In any case, this tree is notable enough to be on the list, which is how I know the name of the village. 

During the coach ride the guide had time to tell us stories.  Guides like to do that, or maybe it's part of the job description.  Anyhow, she told us a story about Zeus, who went among the humans disguised as a peasant.  An elderly couple he encountered shared their meager food and their hospitality impressed him so well that he identified himself and said he would grant them a wish.  They didn't feel they needed anything, but asked if they could be allowed to die together.  Their biggest fear was that one would die and leave the other to be alone and grieving.  (This called to mind my Mom's cousin and his wife, both in their mid 90s, married for over 70 years).  Zeus granted their wish and went back to Mount Olympus.  Some time passed until one day, whilst working in their field the couple felt their time to die had come, so they laid down and wrapped their arms around each other and died peacefully together.  Zeus made an olive tree grow in that place.  This explains why the the trunk of the olive tree is of several strands twisted, it represents that couple with their arms entwined.

I confess to shedding a tear when I heard the story.  I was going to check my Bullfinch's, but can't seem to locate it.  I can't find anything about this on the internet, except for at a Greek tourist website, so I'm thinking it's not proper mythology.  It's still a lovely story, don't you think?  


Steph said...

I believe olive oil labels such as "extra virgin," et al refer to how the oil was made, which would make the labelling meant for people who know about olive oil. For those who don't, just buy what you like. People who don't know better may hang their own attributes on such labels but that's not the oil's fault.

I like the story too, and remember not everything is in print or on the internet. Oral history was the first form of record keeping and entertainment, and it is good that it still thrives in exclusive little pockets.

Frugal Scholar said...

I've been so enjoying your tales of travel. I can't wait to go to Greece.

James said...

A lovely story indeed.

Struggler said...

Oh, I love love love honey and right now, some of what you bought on toast sounds pretty appealing.
I really like the Zeus story - how humbling to think that when offered anything they wanted, that's what they chose.