THE OLIVE TREE
There are two main crops on the island that get everyone excited, grapes and olives, both of which are topics of much discussion.
As Autumn approaches people begin checking and comparing trees to see how the olives are progressing. Many questioning as to whether it will be a good year for olives, has the weather cooperated, etc. Olives are a very important staple for us. Included on the table at every meal, olives also serve as terrific snacks throughout the day, and are one of the best hors d'ouvres to accompany a glass of ouzo. Not only do we consume lots of olives in their natural state, but we also use their oil just as much if not more! Olive oil is a necessity in the kitchen as it is always used in cooking, over salads, drizzled raw over many bean and vegetable dishes. In Ikaria, where we have an abundance of olive trees, you take for granted how much you use daily. When I travel to the States my family is amazed at how much olive oil we are suddenly using. Unlike in the States where many other types of oil are commonly used in Ikaria we are always using olive oil. Personally, I don't even have butter in the house as I use olive oil not only for cooking but for baking cakes and cookies also. Though it may sound strange, no one has noticed a difference in flavor.
The olive is actually quite amazing. Considered to be drought resistant, the olive tree isquite hardy as it is able to thrive in poor, rocky soil. Since the time of ancient Greece, it hasbeen a symbol of peace and friendship as winners during the ancient Olympic Games werecrowned with a wreath of its branches. Olive trees are of great benefit to the environment asthey help remove CO2 from the atmosphere and fix it in the soil. The fruit of the tree, the olive,is filled with antioxidants, fiber, and healthy fats. When we speak of longevity, the olive tree is aperfect example as they are some trees known to be 2000 years old! After the task of collectingolives has been completed, we prune the trees. The leafy branches are given to the goats asfeed, while the thicker branches are used in the fireplace, emitting a very pleasant aroma asthey burn. When the olives have been pressed, the organic matter that is left behind,as well as the kernel of the olive do not go to waste. They are known to be an eviromentally friendly fuel and an excellent source of fertilizer. Almost every house has olive trees. Those who don't or perhaps not enough will often olives from someone who has many trees and they will share the oil. So no one needs to go without olive oil. Olive trees are highly valued and continue to be planted by many. A pivotal part of our heritage, the olive tree is an heirloom passed to future generations.