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The olive - an amazing tree / November 06, 2013
The olive, Olea europaea, an amazing tree of the Bible, was a very valuable and abundant plant; providing food, oil for lamps, religious rituals (holy oil), skin care and soap making.

A beautiful tree according to scripture, Hosea 14:6, “His splendour will be like an olive tree”. It was known as zayeet in Hebrew and zaytun or itm in Arabic. The first mention of the olive tree is in Genesis 8:11, “When the dove returned to him in the evening, there in its beak was a freshly plucked olive leaf! Noah knew, then, that the flood water had receded from the earth”.

From Genesis to Revelations, the Bible refers to the olive more than 25 times and to olive oil more than 160 Times. Scriptural references include oil used for light, anointing and food. In Exodus 27:20, “Command the Israelites to bring you clear oil of pressed olives for the light so that the lamps may be kept burning”. Exodus 30:31 states “Say to the Israelites, ‘This is to be my sacred anointing oil for generations to come’”. Exodus 29:2, “And from fine wheat flour, without yeast, make bread and cakes mixed with oil, and wafers spread with oil”. The oil was also used as we use butter, or for dipping bread. Divine Instructions for Holy Ointment is given in Exodus 30:22-25.

The long lifespan of the olive tree has seen entire kingdoms come and go. Their ancient trunks have become twisted, knotted, and oddly beautiful. The extremely sturdy roots of the trees, when cut or burned to the ground, will normally produce new growth. The average height of the trees are 30 to 50 feet and 12 to 15 feet wide. Leaves are opposite, narrow, lance shaped and grey-green with silvery undersides.

Large groves of olive trees grew along the coast of Syria, throughout Lebanon and the rocky hill country of Palestine. The trees prefer sun, well drained, calcareous soil and do best on limestone slopes and in coastal climate conditions. Spain, Italy and Greece produce most of the worlds supply, with France, California, Texas and Arizona now grow them commercially. Olive trees ripen best in climates with hot summers and moderate winters. The hardiest cultivars are hardy outdoors to 14 degrees. An olive tree may grow indoors in a pot in a sunny location. Specific growing information must be obtained at the place of purchase because of the variety of plants available. Many on-line nurseries offer varieties of olive trees and planting instructions.

Harvesting is done by beating limbs with long sticks then gathering the fruit from the ground. Harvest from one tree could supply a family with oil for their needs. The fruit, before cured, is very bitter but not poison. The curing process included brining, or soaking and repeated washings. Oil was extracted from the berries by an upright stone wheel, an olive press. Basic methods of extracting olive oil today are nearly the same as in ancient times – harvest ripe olives, crush them, separate solids from liquids and then separate the vegetable water from the oil.

Olive oil was used for cleansing and in healing, as in Luke 10:34, The Parable of the Good Samaritan, “he went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine” and in Isaiah 1:6, “From the sole of your foot to the top of your head there is no soundness – only wounds and bruises and open sores, not cleansed or bandaged or soothed with oil”. Olive oil and olive leaf extraction used in healing today evolve as studies continue.

This recipe came from a dear friend, who fled Castro’s Cuba in the early 60’s and met her husband to be, a Navy Pilot, in Guantanamo Bay. We were fortunate to be their neighbor in “Gitmo” and again in Madrid. We had enjoyed Shrimp Enchilado at Marta’s table, and after she assured me that she brought recipes from home, in her head and not on paper, we managed to get it on paper. I miss her. The wonderful laugh, her stories and her great cooking. When we have Shrimp Enchilado we celebrate Marta.

Shrimp Enchilado wih Olives

1 medium onion, chopped

3 cloves garlic, chopped

1 small, green bell pepper, chopped

3 tblsp. Olive oil

2 tblsp. Tomato paste

1 28 oz can, diced tomatoes

1 oz white wine

Salt to taste

1 tsp. white sugar

1 tsp. oregano

1 large or 2 small bay leaves

1 dozen green (or black) olives, sliced

1 lb medium, cooked shrimp

Saute onion and garlic in olive oil until tender. Add chopped green pepper.

Stir in tomato paste, add diced tomatoes and wine. Add salt and sugar, oregano, and bay leaf. Simmer, until thickened. Adjust seasoning. Stir in sliced olives and cooked shrimp. Serve over steamed rice, or mashed potatoes.

Note: dash of Tabasco can be added, if you like a bit of spice.

Special Thought: “Always observe how ephemeral and worthless human things are. Pass then through this little space of time conformably to nature, and end thy journey in content, just as an olive falls off when it is ripe, blessing nature who produced it, and thanking the tree on which it grew.” Marcus Aurelius The Southside Virginia Herb Society is a group of local enthusiasts interested in learning and sharing knowledge of gardening, crafting and cooking with herbs. Members come from Halifax, Mecklenburg, Lunenburg and Charlotte Counties. We meet on the third Saturday of the month. For more information contact Kathy at 434-454-4208 or e-mail .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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