When November comes along, Greece prepare for the olive harvest. My family doesn’t live on a farm, but we do have olive groves, and every year we take part in this tradition. And we’re not alone; scores of Greeks find themselves in olive groves this time of year. Not only does it bring them back to the land, it provides olive oil, a staple for the average Greek.
Greeks consume approximately 7 gallons of olive oil a year—two cups a week for every man, woman and child living between the Ionian and Mediterranean seas. This amount is nearly double that of the olive oil-loving nations of Italy and Spain.
Since antiquity, olive oil has had a special place in Greek food and culture. Olive oil was one of the “the three fundamentals” in Ancient Greek food. Today, it remains the main fat used in the Greek traditional diet that serves as the prototype of the Mediterranean diet as we know it today. It is used for all cooking needs, even for desserts. And it’s not only food. Olive oil also holds a special position in the Greek-Orthodox religion and is used in many religious ceremonies such baptisms and weddings.
Generally there is an ideal time to pick the olives so that they are at their perfect stage of maturation, the stage at which point the olive produces the best quality oil with the lowest acidity. Greece is known for its high quality olive oil. In fact, 80 percent of olive oil produced in Greece is classified as “extra virgin olive oil (EVOO), the highest percentage of any country in the world! (For comparison, Italy is at 45 percent; Spain at 30 percent.) Greek production is mainly from small olive oil groves much like my family’s. But like us, many Greeks produce olive oil for their own use.
Our olive harvest starts alongside the workers, when we all start picking. Olives are picked mainly through a process much like the way the ancient Greeks used to do it, but slightly modernized. While it is time consuming, if done carefully it reduces damage to the trees and the olives. Within hours the olives are milled to produce high-quality oil. This is truly fresh olive oil, the aroma and flavor is incomparable to any fancy bottled olive oil.
Like many Greeks, I once took olive oil for granted; we literally had an unlimited supply of it and used it freely. After becoming a dietitian and food and nutrition writer specializing in the Mediterranean diet—and spending a lot of time thinking about olive oil—I realized just how lucky I was not only to have access to high quality olive oil, but also to know that it came from the land of my ancestors.
This recipe calls for using Greek olives called throubes. These meaty olives are unique because they are the only olives that are left to ripen and shrivel on the tree. If you can’t find them at a Greek market, use kalamon (kalamata) olives instead.
- 7 ounces throubes olives, rinsed and pit removed
- 1 garlic clove
- Capers, to taste
- Salt, to taste
- Pepper, to taste
- Herbs such as thyme or rosemary or oregano
- Grind the olives into a paste in a food processor.
- Add the crushed garlic clove and continue mixing.
- Add the herbs and spices and continue mixing until the paste is smooth.
Serving size: 1 tablespoon
Calories: 40, Carbohydrates: 1 g, Protein: 0 g, Fat: 4 g