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Olive-Cul-Hst-art - 3/7/11

 

"The Olive – A Cultural History" by HL Biatrichi di Palermo.

 

NOTE: See also the files: olives-msg, cooking-oils-msg, larding-msg, fried-foods-msg, nuts-msg, Oil-Lamps-art, lamps-msg, p-petroleum-msg.

 

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NOTICE -

 

This article was submitted to me by the author for inclusion in this set of files, called Stefan's Florilegium.

 

These files are available on the Internet at: http://www.florilegium.org

 

Copyright to the contents of this file remains with the author or translator.

 

While the author will likely give permission for this work to be reprinted in SCA type publications, please check with the author first or check for any permissions granted at the end of this file.

 

Thank you,

Mark S. Harris...AKA:..Stefan li Rous

stefan at florilegium.org

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The Olive – A Cultural History*

 

by HL Biatrichi di Palermo

 

               It is no bigger than the end of your thumb, but this fruit has been worth its weight in gold, a symbol of peace, a prize of great honor, the catalyst of wars, light for civilizations, a delicacy for kings, sustenance for paupers, and the life blood of some of the greatest civilizations the world has ever known.  The fruit of the olive tree must be cured, or its taste is sadistically bitter, but the olive’s versatility has made it one of the most important agricultural, cultural, and industrial foods in history.

 

Early Civilizations – the Levant, Mesopotamia, and Egypt

 

               No one knows exactly when man ate the first olive, or pressed the first oil. Perhaps an olive fell into the sea, cured to ripeness, and floated onto the shore to be eaten by an animal.  We do know that there is evidence of the cultivated olive in the paleontological studies of the Paleolithic and Neolithic ages (Bartolini 13).  Regardless of its origin we do know the olive was already an accepted food item upon the founding of early civilization.  Popular thought places the earliest olive trees in the Levant (what is now modern day Syria, Lebanon, Israel, and Palestine), where it is an indigenous plant. Its cultivation dates as early as the fourth millennium BC (Brothwell 154-155).

 

               In Mesopotamian Society, olive oil was not prized as a cooking product.  Only the underclasses were known to consume its fruits.  The local nobility used sesame as the cooking oil of choice for frying and flavoring (Brothwell 153). However, olive oil was used as a lighting fuel.  Unlike many other oils, which smoke when burned, olive oil burns without smoke and residue, and is used as fuel for oil lamps.  

 

               Early Jewish society also possessed knowledge of the olive’s uses, doubtless due to their cohabitation with the Mesopotamian and other Levantine cultures.  The Jewish people were expected to provide a tithe of fine olive oil to keep temple lamps lit (The Bible, Exodus ch 27, v. 20, Leviticus ch. 24, v2).  The Jews also understood the olive’s other properties, using it as a cleansing product and in food preparation.  Olive oil was used in the ordination of the sons of Aaron as the priests of Israel, to cleanse and consecrate the alter for seven days, after an initial sacrifice, and as a final offering in combination with offerings of wine, meat and bread (The Bible, Exodus ch. 29, v.2-40).  Not only did the olive have practical use in Jewish society it also gained symbolic significance in their mythos.  In the story of Noah and the flood, the olive is seen as a symbol of peace and subsistence.

 

And the dove came in to him in the evening; and, lo, in her mouth was an olive leaf pluckt off: so Noah know that the waters were abated from off the earth (The Bible, Genesis ch. 8, v11).  

 

With the presentation of the olive branch, not only did Noah know of dry land, and the passing of God’s wrath, but that he would also have food, lamp oil and wood for heat and shelter.  

 

               Another story tells of the Israelites desire for a king, using various trees as symbols.  The olive tree is shown the highest honor as the most important tree in that it is the first to be asked.  

 

The trees went forth on a time to anoint a king over them; and they said unto the olive tree, reign thou over us. But the olive tree said unto them, Should I leave my fatness, where with by me they honor God and man, and go to be promoted over the trees? (The Bible, Judges ch. 9, v.8-9)

 

The fig tree and cedars are also asked, but only the thorn bush is willing.

 

               For all its importance in Middle Eastern Asia, the cultivation and importance of olives was not exclusive to Mesopotamia and the Levant.  Olive cultivation was also known to the Egyptians, in an area covering most of the Nile delta, from Lake Mareotis to the areas west of the Canopic branch (Mark 98).  Not only were Egyptian olives a dietary item, but oil was extracted from the raw fruit (Brothwell 155).  Again it saw use as a fuel for lamps, and as a cleansing product, but was also used in the preparation of perfumes, and salves.  The Egyptians also used oil in religious ceremonies by anointing with it and using it to light temples.  It is know from Egyptian historical records that Ramseses III had olive trees planted around the Temple of Thebes to be offered to the god Rà (Bartolini 29).  The discovery of the method by which oil was extracted was attributed to the goddess Isis (Bartolini 38).  

 

Egyptian oil was considered to be of low quality and yield.  As demand for oil increased, the Egyptians began importing it from surrounding cultures.  This is particularly noteworthy, as early olive oil was more than likely hand-pressed and wild olive trees produce only small amounts of oil (Brothwell 155).  This clearly indicates organized cultivation of olive trees and that oil pressing for export occurred in these surrounding regions.  Despite this work intensive process, oil and olives traveled over the land trade route between Egypt and Palestine, satisfying the area’s consumption needs.  During frequent Egyptian civil wars, the Lower Kingdom was often cut off from the olive producing regions in Upper Egypt.  There is much evidence that during these periods of instability, a sea trade route from southern Mesopotamia around the Arabian Peninsula to the Lower Kingdom of Egypt became a thriving avenue for the olive trade (Mark 120-125).  

 

Though the cultivation, processing and use of the olive was not as sophisticated as we find in later cultures, olive oil lights the early civilization and feeds a large numbers of citizens in these societies.  

 

The Greeks

 

               Other societies cultivated olives, but Greek society perfected it in every aspect: cultivation, exploitation, and consumption (Rios 101).  One of the oldest written records of olive production is a set of tablets from Crete, produced under the rule of King Minos in approximately 2500BC.  Even the Cretan palace had its own olive press, and one can still see the surviving 5 foot tall oil amphorae housed in its ruin (Dolemore 14).  

 

               Oddly enough, the earliest Greek societies did not use the olive in the methods popular to the surrounding and earlier cultures.  The Mycenaean Greeks used torches for light and animal fat for cooking.  Additionally, there is no evidence of olive consumption or curing.  Olive oil was used exclusively as a washing product in the manner of soap (Murry 44).  The Mycenaean olive and its cultivation is described by Dr. David Hanson in his work The Other Greeks:

 

From our scanty sources – archaeological remains and the Linear B records – Mycenaean viticulture and arboriculture were not advanced, in the sense that the range and number of domesticated species of fruit trees and olives were very limited.  The total acreage devoted to successful vineyards and orchards of productive varieties was relatively small. Hence the harvests of the species must have been disappointing given the equally low intensity of labor and productivity in only a moderately populated landscape (Hanson Other Greeks 30).

 

Like their Mesopotamian counterparts the Mycenaean Greeks found the wild olive produced little oil and scarce fruit, even when intensive methods of processing were applied.

 

               With the rise of the Peloponnesian Greek society, the olive’s status rose.  Olive oil replaced animal fat as the primary cooking fuel and the olive itself is consumed as food.  Though still used as a cleanser, it took on the role of lubricant, lighting oil, wood fuel for fires, and staves for farm implements (Hanson Other 78).  Its leaves are often taken as an infusion against hypertension and a diuretic (Dolemore 23).  The increased breadth in olive use can be directly linked to technological advances to production and processing techniques.

 

The Classical Greeks had a greater understanding of grafting and propagation than earlier peoples.  Following the Third Punic War, the Greeks spread large-scale cultivation, consumption and commerce as far as Hispania, and cultivated varieties specifically suited to various climates and soils (Hanson Other 34-35, Rios 101).  The Greeks used skills in pruning and fertilization to increase product yield from a single tree (Hanson Other 67).  Since the wild olive tree produces a crop only once every other year, Greek olive farmers adopted the practice of crop rotation, allowing a good crop to be produced annually (Hanson Other 74).

 

Unfortunately, the inventive Greek olive farmer with his annual income soon became an outsider to mainstream society, as his stability made him less dependent on the city-state and increasingly isolated from its politics.  Frequent wars between city-states also engendered isolation between the agrarian Greek and his civic counterpart (Hanson Other 78).    In an effort to keep the olive farmer connected to the polity, Greek society developed many laws and regulations seeing to their prosperity and protection. Solon, chief magistrate in 594 BC and founder of the Athenian state prohibited the export of agricultural products, with the notable exception of olive oil (Murry 198).  This would indicate that even though olive oil was in high demand locally, cultivation was such that a surplus existed, and money was to be made in export.  Another Athenian law punished uprooting.  This law included stumps as well, due to the indestructible nature of the tree.  A single stump, if properly tended, could generate a new crop in 5 to 7 years’ time (Hanson Agriculture 64-67).  

 

During the Punic wars, Sparta enlisted whole companies of men outfitted and trained to destroy olive crops in neighboring Athens.  Fortunately, for the Athenians, this caused relatively minor crop disruption, as the Spartans only engaged in the removal of trunk and limb, not the time-consuming process of root destruction.  Root destruction, or bark removal is the only way to manually kill a mature tree, and if a bark-stripped tree is discovered in time, it can often be saved by the application of cloth bands.  The trees are also not easily burned.  According to Greek myth, the olive tree in the Acropolis was burned but sprouted again the following day (Hanson  57-63).

 

The olive was important to Greek society beyond its daily uses.  As in previous cultures, it became a symbol of strength and sustenance, and appears in myth, literature, and societal events as a cultural symbol.  Greek author Hesiod, also a farmer, writes of the life of the farmer as he cultivates his olive crop in Works and Days.  The ships in the Iliad were known to carry olives in their food stores, and Odysseus’ bed was a massive olive trunk.  

 

According to legend, when the Atticans sought a name for their great new city, they asked the gods to give a gift, and the one most useful to man would receive the right to name it.  Poseidon gave man the horse, and Athena gave man the olive tree. Though the horse had obvious use, the olive tree was light, warmth and sustenance; all things man cannot be without.  That city is still known as Athens (Hamilton 269).  Another myth describes Hercules thrusting his staff into the ground, and producing the olive tree (Rosenblum 10).  

 

The olive was so prized in Greek culture that winners of the Olympic Games were crowned with its leaves and given its finest oil as the winning prize.  The earliest Olympic flame was a burning olive bough, and the contestants were covered in so much olive oil that the Greeks had a special knife call the strigil that was used to scrape it from the skin (Rosenblum 7).  

 

The Romans

 

If the Roman Empire was a chariot, it was the olive that greased its wheels. Roman society was a dichotomy of farmers and warriors; they excelled at both disciplines.  The cultivation of the olive came to the Italian peninsula via Greece in the 6th century BC.  Under the Roman Empire, the number of olive types and the quality of existing ones increased.  The Romans advanced the art of pressing with improvements to the earlier beam press, and the invention of the newer screw press (Brothwell 156, Gies 24).  On a humorous note, most of the extensive information available on Roman beam presses is due to the work of Victorian archaeologist H.S. Cowper in modern Libya.  He meticulously recorded hundreds of press sites as he was under the impression that the remaining stone base structures were ancient religious monuments (Mattingly 35).

 

               To the Roman agricultural economy, nothing equaled the importance of the olive growing estate.  Two Roman emperors, came from the olive estates in Spain (Rios 102).  Writers Marcus Cato and Lucius Junius Moderatus Columella, illustrate the working Roman estate, its components, methods of cultivation, and the place of the olive in Rome’s social order.  

 

               Cato described the main practical considerations involving an olive growing estate. He recommended riding the surrounding lands and counting the communal olive presses and wine vats before purchasing an estate (Cato 28).  A low number of facilities indicated low crop yield, as one only built what one needed.  Each estate should have an oil cellar and at least two oil presses (Cato 29).  He described the steps in preparing for harvest: making new baskets, mending old ones from willow, making net pins from wood, testing the press, and possibly constructing a new press beam from black hornwood (Cato 47).  He also was one of the first to set down recommendations for pressing techniques. Contradictory to today’s standards, he recommended a high acid fruit and oil. He laid down the process for making green oil by picking olives in the green stage, washing them thoroughly, and milling those two days after gathering (Cato 77).  As olives sit waiting to mill, they begin to ferment.  Cato expected this two-day fermentation to improve oil yield or quality.  He also made recommendations for hardship situations such as low yield crops and freezes.  Picking olives in the black stage will stretch the yield, and produce yellow oil.  Frost frozen olives can be milled 4 days later, adding salt to assist in oil flow (Cato 77).  Cato’s final words of olive wisdom focused on hygiene.  He recommended keeping the entire process as clean as possible to produce fine product (Cato 79).

 

               Roman writer Columella called the olive tree "the queen of trees", and declared it the easiest tree to cultivate (Columella 71).  Columella turned his attention to the art of botany rather than the practicalities of the estate. He sat set down a simple rule that deemed large breeds best for consumption, and small varieties for oil production.  He listed the nine common types of olive as Posia, Licinian, Sergian, Nevian, Culminian, Orchis, Royal, Shuttle, and Myrtle.  Posia, Orchis, Shuttle and Royal, were listed as olives for fruit consumption.  Posia was marked as superior and could also be used green to produce short shelf-life oil.  Licinian is noted as producing the highest quality oil. Sergian was noted as particularly frost resistant, and had the highest yield production under any conditions (Columella 71-73).  He helpfully provided extensive instructions on pruning and fertilizing for the new estate owner (Columella 71-73).  

 

               Rome’s appetite for the olive was vast. Cato describes the olive as the staple of the middle class and peasant diet.  Windfall olives and low yield types were picked out for the peasants and the remainder made into oil or preserved in brine with layers for fennel and mastic on top and bottom.  The oil and preserved olives found their way to the plates of the upper classes.  Cato also set out the appropriate olive oil allotment for the peasantry at one pint per month (Brothwell 156).  Fresh olives were often kept in the household for the hand pressing of emergency lighting oil as Roman olive oil could turn bad quickly (Bothwell 156)  Not only were olives food and the oil used as a fuel and food ingredient, several other purposes emerged in Roman society.  In addition to the previous use as a cleaning product, it saw use as a cosmetic and perfume base and its use in medicaments greatly increased (Mattingly 33).  One of the most interesting uses was in the practice of midwifery.  Roman writer Pliny the Elder made several recommendations for olive oil based salves in his work Historia Naturalis.  Most of Pilny’s recommendations were discounted by the work of Soranus, in his book Gynecology.  Soranus recommended the Roman midwife have the following items at her disposal: olive oil (clean, not previously used in cooking), warm water, olive oil based warm fomentaions (ointment to be applied to the body), soft sea sponges, pieces of wool, swaddling bandages, a pillow, aromatic herbs and spirits, two beds (one for delivery, and one for recovery) and a room of medium size and moderate temperature.  Olive oil is recommended to clean the newborn’s eyes and to use warm in bladders in the manner of a hot water bottle (French 1).

 

               This widespread use of the olive and its oil spread with the empire: wherever Rome went, so went oil.  Demand on the peninsula itself was so great that import was essential to keep the oil flowing.  The area of North Africa alone produced 18,000 metric tons of oil or 30 million liters per annum.  This equals 350,000 large Roman oil amphorae.  This area was readily accessible via established trade routes and provided cheap, available labor (Mattingly 37).  In describing the Roman olive trade, it is best to examine one of its provinces, Roman Spain. Roman Spain covers what we now call Catalonia, and according to Alicia Rio’s presentation to the Oxford Symposium on Food and Cooking in 1988:

 

The golden oil of the silvery Hispanic olive trees came to be the most highly esteemed of the empire. Impressions made by amphorae with the epigraphic markings of Spain’s potters have been found during excavations in Gaul, Brittany, and on the banks of the Rhône, Rhine and the Danube, proving the importance of Spain’s export potential.  

 

Roman culture was a society on the move.  Armies accustomed to the comforts of home often carried olives, and olive oil with them on campaign.  The Roman outpost in Camulodunum, modern day London, received a full 40% of the olive oil exported from Spain (Salway 447).  

 

The Post-Roman World

 

               As the Roman golden age waned, with the empire facing internal divisions and invasion from the north, traditional olive growing continued and flourished in the Middle East, mainly as it had since civilization’s awakening.  Middle Eastern culture, however, now used olive oil primarily for frying (Rios 102). References to planting and harvesting times were written down in a more methodical manner than seen in earlier cultures suggesting the olives continued importance and improvements in previous agricultural methods.  The Yemeni Almanac commissioned by Third Sultan al-Malik al-Ashraf ‘Umar ibn Yūsuf in 670 AD, lists agricultural time tables for thirty-four tree crops including Zaytūn (Olive) (Varisco 182).  According to this work, on Tishrīn al-Thānī (November) or Dhū Muhla 6th day the olives were picked in Egypt (Varisco 24). Olive trees were planted in Syria in Tishrīn al-Awwal (October), and some types when ice was still on the ground in Kānūn al-Thānī January).  Olives were also planted Tishrīn al-Thānī (November) and Kānūn al- Awwal (December) in Greece (Varisco 197-198).  The calendar records one olive festival, the Daytona Festival of the Olive Branches (Varisco 78).

 

               As in other cultures, the olive’s use as metaphor in religious texts re-emerges in the new Islamic faith.  The Qur’an calls the olive tree a gift from Allah, the sacred tree (Dolemore 13). From "The Light" 24:35 we are told:

 

Allah is the light of the heavens and the earth; a likeness of His light is a niche in which is a lamp, the lamp is in a glass, the glass is as it were a brightly shining star, lit from a blessed olive-tree, neither eastern nor western, the oil where of almost gives light though fire touch it not – light upon light – Allah guides to His light whom He pleases, and Allah sets forth parables for men, and Allah is cognizant of all things.  

 

Though already familiar to her northern sister, Catalonia, Islamic and Middle Eastern culture eventually introduced olives to Southern Spain with the Moorish migration, new crops, new rotations, and irrigation principles came with them to Andalusia. Alicia Rio comments on this new olive culture:

 

…the groves in Andalusia are of Arab origin.  Geographically speaking, the eastern regions of Spain, situated on the Mediterranean coast up to the Andalusian border are the territory of the olivo and the olivar, while the area to the west and south of the regions…is the home of the aceite and aceituna, the almzura (oil mill) and the alcuza (oil bottle), words with the roots clearly embedded in Arabic and Moorish cultures (Rios 102).

 

Unfortunately, the reconquered Christian lands were converted to sheep breeding and grain growing, and with them most of the olive culture in Northern Spain disappeared.  Previous olive groves and gardens were abandoned (Sweeney 65).  The surviving Spanish olive culture is the culture of the Moor.  

 

Medieval World

 

               The fall of Rome saw a collapse of the olive trade in the former imperial colonies. Without the empire to keep roads maintained and trading lines free of marauders, long range olive trade subsided, and collapsed into the south.  

 

               The olive and its oil had little importance to northern medieval culture.  Though the Romans imported oil to the regions in vast quantities to support its administration, it had little lasting effect on the diets and habits of the indigenous populations.  The sole use remaining in Britain was maintained by the wealthy, but possibly not as a contiguous custom.  As animal oil was forbidden by the Lenten tradition, olive oil was an expensive substitute.  The Earl of Northumberland imported thirty-six gallons of olive oil in 1512 at a considerable price of £1.66 (Hammond 74).  English recipes regularly qualify olive oil as such as if the product were not common enough to do without explicit identification.  In old English it is oyle dolyf. (Scully 83)

 

               In southern Europe, France, Spain and Italy maintained olive cultivation for local use, but not primarily for trade or export.  The Cistercian order bought local land from the southern French nobility for their compounds, known as granges. Previously abandoned olive trees were often re-pruned and prepared for harvest, for use by the order, or local trade (Berman 23-24).  Not all granges were directly connected to an abbey, and were maintained as one day’s journey way stations between the grange, other important holdings, and urban areas.  These lands often supported olive orchards, as they were easily maintained with minimal supervision (Berman 70).  The Merced order leased land along the Islamic-Spanish border and often gave oil from their land as gifts (Brodman 3 & 14).  

 

               Regardless of its disregard as a food and export product, the use of olive oil in the Bible makes it an important cultural item for the developing Roman Catholic faith.  Olive oil is an important ingredient in the formula for an anointing oil set down in the Biblical book of Exodus (ch. 25, v. 22-23).  It consists of 18lbs. of pure myrrh and cassia, 9lbs. of cinnamon sweet cane, presumably infused in approximately 1½ gallons of olive oil.  The Frankish King Clovis presented himself for baptism by the Bishop of Rheims, Remmigius, on Christmas day 496 AD. Tradition holds that the Holy Spirit,  in the form of a dove, descended upon the cathedral and presented Remmigius with an unction, or holy Ampulle, of anointing oil for the baptism (Brown 44).  It is through this oil that Clovis is anointed Christian King of the Franks.  Believed to have been in continual use, the unction, it is claimed, never ran dry.  It is again mentioned in written record at the coronation of Louis the VII in 816 (Brown 56).  He was crowned by Pope Innocent the II, and "elevated as king by the unction of the holy liquor" (Brown 43-44).  Elizabeth Brown, in her work "Franks, Burgundians, and Aquitanians and the Royal Coronation Ceremony in France", asserts that in the French coronation ceremony, it is the anointment with holy oil that confers kingship, and not the placing of the crown upon the head (45).  The Ampulle itself resided in the Cathedral in Rheims, the site of Clovis’ baptism, which became the coronation place of all the kings of France.  It produced such a jealousy in the monks of St. Denis, who guarded the equally important Oriflamme (the sacred battle standard of France), that they stole it on two occasions and twice received special dispensation from the Pope to transport it to Paris for coronations (Brown 56).

 

               The olive is still an important food item in the Islamic world from North Africa through Persia.  Cookbooks are created with many dishes that grace the tables of the Kings, Princes and Caliphs of the Middle East.   The earliest extant Islamic cookbook Kitāb al-Tabīkh (The Book of Dishes) was compiled in the tenth century by Ibin Sayyār al-Warrāq and included earlier recipe collections of caliphs and their courtiers (Zaouali ix).  Earlier cookbooks are known to have existed through chronicles, annals, and encyclopedias (Zaouali 9). One such work also known as Kitāb al-tabikh, compiled sometime between 779CE and 839CE by Abū Ishāq Ibrāhīm ibn al-Mahdī, is said to contain a recipe for marinated olives with thyme.  This preparation takes raw black and green olives and packs them in olive oil with salt and thyme. (Zaouali 9,65).  As these cookbooks were known to contain dishes that were from the noble table, it can be surmised that simpler, less costly preparations existed in the common household.  

 

The Renaissance

 

               The Renaissance in Italy saw a parallel renewal of the olive.  It was as the whisper of Roman taste still dwelt on the peninsula.  As in antiquity, oil continued to flow in the Roman homeland as a local product.  Siena was a particularly good example of the new local olive culture: local farmers produced local oil, for local consumption, and not for trade (Balestracci 73).

 

               Though much of the countryside was converted to grain production in the medieval era, the olive reappeared in force in the Sienese countryside around the fifteenth century.  Tuscany was a land of peasant sharecroppers, cultivating land for the upper and middle classes (Balestracci 71-73).  The local olive press is a later Roman style screw press, turned by a beast of burden (Balestracci 74). According to Duccio Balestracci in his work The Renaissance in the Fields: Family Memoirs of a Fifteenth-Century Tuscan Peasant: "Sienese law of the 1400s required peasants to plant four fruit trees and four olive trees a year on farms of sufficient size" (71).  The local peasantry further improved agricultural techniques through several means.  Sienese farmers often grew complementary crops around the tree bases, providing better soil health for both crops.  Plowing and hoeing were regularly done to improve drainage, conserving water.  Lime was also added to the soil as a fertilizer improving overall tree health (Balestracci 73-74).  

 

               Though olives and oil did not yet re-emerge as an import and export item, their use as a cooking product did.  After the publication of the first known European cookbook Le Viandier in 1370, by Taillevent, cook to the king of France, cookbooks become desired among the upper and middle classes.  Author Bartolomeo Sacchi, also known as Platina, was a courtier in the 15th century Gonzaga court.  He was at one time a soldier of fortune, preceptor to the young princes of the court of the Gonzaga, a papal legal advisor, and Vatican librarian. He is best known as author of the first printed cookbook De Honesta Voluptate Et Valetudine (Honest Pleasure and Good Health).  This book was annotations of recipes developed by the cook of the Cardinal of Aquileia, Maestr Martino. (Alberini 39-40).   Sacchi set out not only to produce a cookbook but to provide a guide to natural, healthy living.  Sacchi was well versed in the use of olive oil, according to Massimo Alberini, in his article "Bartolomeo Sacchi Re-Edited" in the proceedings of the Oxford Symposium on Food & Cookery on The Cooking Medium from 1986:

 

Platina’s notes on food…are interesting in a very particular sense.  We must bear in mind that the author was a Lombard, living in Rome.  Therefore he saw food from a particular point of view.  In respect of fats, for instance he attached special importance to olive oil, distinguishing the lighter oil, poor to taste, made from unripe olives, from the heavier, green oil mad from mature olives.  He also distinguished between oil from the top of the jar and that from the bottom.  He attached equal importance to the type of olive, preferring the larger sort, resembling the Spanish olive of the present day, for conserving in brine or honey…Platina attached less importance to butter, saying that it is used by the people of the North who cannot get olive oil.  

 

It is claimed that the book was in the library of Catherine de Medici when she came to France.  This would not be unlikely, as it was a "best seller" for over 50 years (Alberini 39-40)

 

               As Catherine’s influence in France waned, both olive oil and the unction of Rheims reappeared as a cultural symbol.  The Ampulle and its contents were used to justify the divinity of kings in the coronation of the first French protestant monarch Henry II de Navarre, and his Catholic queen Margot de Valois.  Huguenot agitator and royal advisor, Jean De Tillet, cited the use of the Ampulle as necessity when he redrafted the coronation ceremony for Henry.  He asserted that the consecration by anointing the Kings of France made them more loyal, faithful, and moreover better rulers, as their powers came directly through God (Brown 71).  

 

               Olive oil is still used in medicinal preparations through the renaissance.  One such example comes from Culpepper’s Complete Herbal, written sometime between 1616 and 1654.  In this guide to the uses of herbal remedies olive oil is used as the base oil.  It does not occur in the list of herbs, but appears in the recipes as a general ingredient to making medicinal preparations.  One such example is a preparation for the healing of ulcers where olive oil is a primary ingredient in the salve described (96).

 

What Remains

 

               History always wants for a conclusion.  There are no longer legions carrying oil upon their backs towards a new and better empire, there is no longer a monarch in France to be anointed in Rheims, but the olive still remains much as it has since the beginning of time.  Olive oil is again a world export.  Export figures have just recently reached the levels of what was exported by Ancient Rome.  Today there are 800 million olive trees in the world, growing on six continents.  Olives are grown as far away from the Levant as China, Japan, South America, The US, and Australia (Rosenblum 12, Quest-Ritson 257-277).  The price of the finest bottles of oil can today easily exceed the cost of a modest meal.  Nazi Germany, as the Spartans before them, tried to remove the olive trees of Greece, and starve out the local populations during war, all to no avail (Salaman 117).  The olive remains a part of contemporary art and culture. Later artists like Matisse and Van Gogh painted the trees’ twisting boughs as they rose toward the Provençal sun.  Italians watercolor pictures of their trees for modern tourists.  For all the improvements in its cultivation and use, the olive’s role remains much the same as it has for thousands of years.  Even today, somewhere in the world, a man beats olives into nets, to grind them with a press built in antiquity.  

 


Bibliography

 

Alberini, Massimo.  "Bartolomeo Sacchi Re-edited".  Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery: 1986 The Cooking Medium – Proceedings.  (1986) 39-41.

 

Balestracci, Duccio.  The Renaissance in the Fields: Family Memoirs of a Fifteenth-Century Tuscan Peasant. Trans Paolo Squatriti and Betsy Merideth.  University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University, 1999.

 

Bartolini, Giorgio and Raffaella Prtruccelli. Classification, Origin, Diffusion and History of the Olive.  Rome: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. 2002.

 

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* Second Edition - Revised and expanded 2010-2011

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Copyright 2010,2011 by Jane Bretz. <b3zsgirl at yahoo.com>. Permission is granted for republication in SCA-related publications, provided the author is credited.  Addresses change, but a reasonable attempt should be made to ensure that the author is notified of the publication and if possible receives a copy.

 

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