The history of the fruit goes back almost as far as Western Civilization. The development of olives is one of man’s first accomplishments.
The olive tree is an evergreen that can grow as high as 50 feet. The olive can survive for 2000 years or more with the correct human care and cultivation and can provide one of the most respected substances.
Italy alone produces around 3,150,000 tons of olives per year and world production currently stands at a 17,320,000 tons. Olive tree cultivation counts for one of the largest and oldest agricultural practices in the whole of the Mediterranean’s history. Olive oil has been used throughout history in cooking, skin care and as a medicine.
Olives require a long hot growing season in order for the fruit to ripen properly. The foliage of olive trees is feather-shaped and the leaves grow opposite one another. The outer layer of the leaves is rich in tannin, which gives them their distinctive color. These trees can live up to, and beyond, 500 years. They are unyielding in the respect that they will continually spring back if chopped off at ground level. Small tendrils will begin to sprout and if not watched carefully, the olive tree will rejuvenate.
The ripening of the olives
Olive fruit are green pomes and turn a blackish-purple when ripe. Some varieties remain green while others turn coppery brown. Olives vary greatly in flavor, oil content and shape. Shapes differ considerably and can be elongated, oval or round. Raw olives are often bitter and uneatable, but some varieties can be eaten raw, once they are sun-dried.
In Italy there are around 300 cultivars of the tree, however only a few are now cultivated for large agricultural production.