Olives Make Their Way to the New World

Olive Jar at Magnolia Mound Plantation, Baton Rouge, Louisiana

Olive Oil Jar at Magnolia Mound Plantation, Baton Rouge, Louisiana

From the size of the jar in this photo, it’s pretty easy to deduce that olive oil was an important commodity for the French who first settled in Louisiana.

Begun in 5000 BC, olive cultivation spread from Crete to Israel to Italy and eventually to southern France. Around the Mediterranean region, olive oil was considered sacred, and was used in medicine and religious ceremonies.

Remarkably, olive trees can live from 300-400 years. This member of the family Oleaceae thrives in harsh conditions, with Italian folk wisdom claiming they do best with sun, stone, drought, silence and solitude.

Olive trees certainly weren’t a natural fit for Louisiana’s soggy climate, but Franciscan missionaries did establish groves in California in the late 18th century. Today, olive trees are common in that state’s wine country, and producers are churning out some fairly impressive oils.