Oh lord, I love olives.
The story in my family goes like this: the first time my father babysat me by himself, my mother came home to find me covered in hives. Why? Apparently, when my father wasn’t watching me, I toddled into the kitchen (was I 18 months old? 2 years old? Mom, help me out), found a jar of olives, and ate them all, one after the other. I’m sure that I had not yet been exposed to brines and spices, and my skin exploded with the overload. But it never turned me off olives. Whenever I think about this image — little Shauna eating an entire jar of olives in one sitting — I think, “Yep. That’s just about right.”
The flesh on Lucques olives clings close to the pit, as though suction cupped there, and the greenness dares to be eaten. “You want some of this? You’re going to have to work at it.”
Every Thanksgiving of my growing-up years, we waited for the lavish feast to appear on the table. The antipasti, if you will, of the meal? A bowl full of green olives, almost suck-puckery with vinegar and salt, stuffed with red pimentos. By the time I hit eight, it was my job to mound the olives in a brown Pfalzgraff bowl and place them in the middle of the table. Two (or twelve) might have never made it into the bowl. We all stared at them hungrily, even though much greater bounty surrounded us.
Do you remember the opening of Amelie, where the little girl plucks one fat red raspberry after another off each of her fingers, until her cheeks bulge with a mouth full of fruit? Well, replace the raspberries with Libby jumbo black olives from a can, and you have me in the afternoons after swimming in the pool.
There’s something green-tasting about great olives, even a bit pungent (a touch of paint thinner? warmed vinegar? a little acidic slip down the back of the throat?). The flesh gives, the olive falls apart, soon it’s just a faint after-memory in the mouth. But the taste never leaves me.
A few weeks ago, the Chef and I were driving toward a cooking class we were going to teach that night. Rain slathered down on the windshield, cars honked in brute frustration, and we were going nowhere on 405-South. Suddenly hungry, I told the Chef we’d have to grab a snack at the store before we began prepping for the class. He grinned his sly grin, and reached down for the floor. Up came a white take-out box from the restaurant. Inside, a snack he had packed for the two of us. Thick slabs of Drunken Goat cheese, and latherings of the olive tapenade he had just created for the new menu: thick bits of ten different kinds of olives, a touch of lemon, a hint of garlic. Who needed crackers? He smeared each piece of cheese with tapenade for me, and then handed it to me when I needed more. I stopped worrying about the traffic.
I’ve come to love Cerignola olives stuffed with almonds. But really, it’s hard to find an olive I don’t like.
This weekend, in Vancouver, the Chef and I ate dinner at a wonderful place called Salt Tasting Room. It’s hardly a restaurant. It’s more of a charcuterie and cheese bar, featuring local products in particular. We’re swoony about the place now. But my favorite bite — perhaps my favorite bite in weeks — involved a briny olive broken in half, juice smeared on a piece of Taleggio cheese, wrapped in a slice of paper-thin smoked beef tenderloin, and dabbed with drops of balsamic reduction sauce. Oh, mama.
Little Bean seems to want many foods these days. But olives? Every day.
I may have a hundred memories, but I always love new ideas of how to eat one of my essential food groups.
What’s your favorite kind? And how do you like to eat olives?