O is for Olives
Olives have a special meaning to me.
My first really good writing in high school was a piece about the Garden of Gethsemane where I imagined Jesus praying under an olive tree. It was so descriptive that the teacher read it to the class while I sat in my seat blushing under her glowing praise.
Since then, my travels have taken me to places where olives are front and center in foods. I’ve tasted more varieties than I ever imagined existed.
The olives have ranged from jumbo-sized to tiny, from green to shiny black, from wrinkled to smooth and the tastes have been from slightly bitter to flavorful. I’ve encountered them in enormous round jars on the counters of crowded Egyptian shops. I’ve bought them from old Greek merchants at the outdoor market in the city center and savored them in fresh Greek Salads along whitewashed walkways overlooking the blue sea. I’ve even hand-selected olives from a particular side of a tub and watched the seller ladle them along with pearl onions and other pickled vegetables into my container.
It was actually in the United Arab Emirates with so many people converging from around the olive-producing world, that I learned the most about olives. Our supermarket contained an entire side filled with twenty ore more barrels, all housing different types of olives.
I remember shortly after I arrived, a vendor offered me one straight out of round barrels where the olives were swimming in salty brine in the store. I was alone and so, having discovered the generosity of one vendor, decided to call upon many to discover the best. I couldn’t even begin to choose!
When I moved to Egypt and started spending time with Ihab, a Captain in the military who also taught English, well, he taught me a little bit about olives – how to smell the olive brine to tell if the olives would be flavorful or not and which type of olive could be found where. He explained there were different types of olives sold in Upper Egypt than in Alexandria. Those, he said, had more of a Mediterranean flavor. Of course, both were different than those in Cairo. The olives in Cairo were larger, rounder and had a stronger, saltier flavor.
Over time, Ihab began to “court” me and, it sounds funny, but olives were always part of those romantic memories.
We drank small cups of sweet tea and chatted for hours on board the decks of falukas –traditional Egyptian boats–parked along the Nile. We always split some type of salad littered with olives because Ihab always ordered extra.
Our conversations had Ihab stabbing his olives with his fork, then gesturing with his fork in the air, and punctuating his point with passionate political arguments and social commentary about Egypt. I used to tease him about this habit after we were married.
A few years after we started our life together, we traveled to Greece. One afternoon in Athens, we were both hot, cranky and hopelessly lost. The man I loved turned into a snarling, obstinate beast who said, “Don’t talk to me ever again!” I seriously looked for the edge of a cliff that overlooked the sea to push him off of, thinking that would solve our problem that day! Unfortunately, (um, I mean, fortunately) we were in the city center with no sea to be found!
I spotted a little sidewalk cafe, which turned out to be a better option. “Habibi, Let’s stop and have a Greek salad. Think olives,” I said, persuasively.
After our Greek salad arrived (and our eyes bulged from shock at how enormous it was), we each tentatively took a fork and began to eat our respective side of the salad. Until he saw a big ripe olive on my side that he wanted, and he snuck his fork over to snag it.
The olive oil had marinaded with the spices and the tomatoes buried among the lettuce and feta cheese. The shiny black olives came whole and with pits so we had to scrape the skin off with our teeth. Neither of us could get enough of the salad–and neither of us could finish it! By the time we were both full, we forgot that we’d been so angry with each other. We gathered up our heavy tourist bags and headed back out, hand-in-hand, to do some more shopping.
“Ihab,” I said, “If only all our arguments could be settled so easily. I’d have a ton of Greek salad on hand!”
“Don’t forget to add the olives.”
Being married to an Egyptian, I quickly learned how to cook with olives, and that included, de-pitting them. In Egypt and in the Middle East, olive pitters can be found in every grocery store. The day Ihab brought it home for me, he made a big show of demonstrating how to operate it. As luck would have it, he slid the olive in it and instead of pitting the olive, he jammed his fat finger in with the olive and both the olive and the pitter clattered to the dirty tiled floor. it was Ihab’s accident prone nature that caused it. (I think that’s why I married him, and the olives came as a bonus!). At any rate, I attached a lot of sentimental value to the olive pitter and shipped it home with me to the United States when I left the Middle East … and my husband. Sadly, the olive pitter lasted longer than our marriage did. I guess not even olives could save our marriage!
But I still love olives!
Whether they are on my plate, in a salad or still growing on the tree, I will always appreciate olives.
How much do you like olives? What are your favorite types? Or, are you like my brother and prefer to stay as far away from olives as possible, especially the deep black overly-ripe ones!
You have just read, “O is for Olives,” by Amy L. Bovaird. Copyright April 20, 2015. You can see who else is participating in the A to Z Blogging Challenge HERE