Olive trees were introduced to California landscape during the founding of the missions.
Olive oil performs sacred, culinary and utilitarian roles.
There are dozens of biblical references to the olive, and oil is still used to anoint the faithful. Stories surrounding the olive predate the Bible going back to early Greek and Roman history.
Mediterranean cultures have long relied on olive oil as a core building block of their recipes.
Bad tasting olive oil was put to use in lamps, cleaner and better smelling than whale oil. Hence the term for oil unsuitable for food, lampante.
In California when the missions were secularized in the 1830s many olive orchards became ornamental. Settlers from Northern Europe were more comfortable with animal fat, milk and butter to cook with. Olive fruit must be processed to be edible, either milling for oil or curing to become table olives. When the old ways died out, the olives just became interesting looking trees.
Though table olives have been grown for years in the Sacramento and San Joaquin Valleys, until recently the California olive oil market was small.
New research is uncovering health benefits of a reduction of saturated fats and of the Mediterranean diet.
The kindling of interest in olive oil and lack of oversight have created a boon for unscrupulous oil brokers.
Recent stories have documented cheap oil is often adulterated with less expensive seed oils or heavily processed lampante oil and sold as extra virgin. Consumer beware.
Artisans are once again making olive oil on the Central Coast. Wineries, farmer’s markets and even judging at the Mid-State Fair are part of the rebirth of a craft that the mission padres brought to California in the late 1700s.
(Full disclosure, my parents sell local made olive oil at farmer’s market.)
In 1965 olive trees were still in the category of decorative trees. Look around the Laguna Lake area and you will find some of the thirty-six trees that were transplanted from a ranch north of Cal Poly. At least two are still at Laguna Village Shopping Center and several more are at the Laguna Lake golf course, around the pro shop. At the time the trees were 75 years old, older than the university and according to the June 12, 1965 Telegram-Tribune story they were planted by a sea captain in 1890. That would make the trees 120 years old today. They were removed from the Richard Tartaglia ranch. The purchase price for the instant trees and transplanting came to $3,500. Using a backhoe and jack hammer the 3.5 ton trees were trucked into place. I suspected the tree I hit golf balls into was old. I had no idea how old or how far it had traveled.