The Bible mentions olives, olive trees, olive branches, olive oil, and the Mount of Olives in at least thirty books. Olives were part of the economic system and the food chain. A good crop meant prosperity; a bad crop was disaster. Analogies using olives abound in the Hebrew scriptures. “Your wife will be like a fruitful vine within your house; your children will be like olive shoots around your table.” (Psalms 128:3 NRSV)
As a child, the oily, tart taste of olives was disgusting to me. My mother kept a jar of red-pimento stuffed green olives in the refrigerator at all times. The olives were no temptation, but the pimentos were pretty and quite tasty. Under the pretense of looking for something else in the refrigerator to eat, I snuck out a green olive (or two) from the jar, sucked out the pimento, and returned the adulterated fruit to the jar. This sneaky pillaging went unnoticed until the number of olives without pimentos exceeded the number with pimentos.
As an adult, I love the oily, salty, tart taste of olives. I also associate olives with things I love: crusty bread, pasta, feta cheese, hummus, the Holy Land, and Jesus.
Last week while we waited for friends to arrive at a restaurant, my husband and I ordered an appetizer of olives and pita bread. It was not only delicious but beautiful. The half-hour of quiet conversation we shared amidst a plate of green, yellow, and purple olives gave me yet another loving association for this small, but potent fruit.
Photo: Sybil MacBeth 2010