Gourmet Galley: Olives and tapenades

Photo provided by California Olive Committee  --  California Wine Country Tapenade can be prepared a day ahead. It's served with toasted baguette slices.
Photo provided by California Olive Committee -- California Wine Country Tapenade can be prepared a day ahead. It's served with toasted baguette slices.

By Corinne Cook

Ripe olives are one of the most versatile foods in your pantry. With a can of black or green ripe olives, you can come up with a quick tapenade appetizer.

Tapenade originated in Proven├že, France, as a simple mixture of chopped olives mixed with the area’s native herbs and spices. The seasoned mixture is used as a spread on crackers or as a condiment.

Today, there are many variations and recipes for tapenade and most use green or black ripe olives. In about 10 minutes, you can have flavors that span the globe from Mexico to California or Asia with the easy recipes .

A bowl of olive tapenade makes a good party food for spreading on crackers or veggies. No one guesses it’s as easy as putting a few olives in a food processor, adding herbs or simple seasonings and whizzing the machine on and off for a few seconds.

Having just returned from Portugal where I saw olive groves and tasted delicious olives, I was curious about the color of olives and wondered if they were all ripe olives even though some were green.

The more I read the more interesting I thought the olive is; so I’m passing along these interesting olive tidbits I found at http://calolive.org (California Olive Commission) and from http://lindsayolives.com (Lindsay Olives):

In the 1800s, Californians began planting acres of olive trees in response to a high demand for olive oil, but prices dropped when the market became saturated. Farmers needed a new plan for their olives. That’s when a housewife, Freda Ehmann, after consulting with a Berkeley professor, invented the ripe olive process.

Ehmann started with 280 gallons of olives in barrels on her back porch and within a few years built a factory in Oroville — the beginning of the California olive industry. Her same process for preparing ripe olives is followed today.

Throughout the curing process, pure air is constantly bubbled through the olives to create the natural, rich dark color of black ripe olives. Green ripe olives go through a nearly identical curing process, but their tanks are not injected with air so they retain their green color. The olives are then pitted and canned.

Besides serving tapenade on crackers or with cheese, you can also:

Corinne Cook is a columnist for The Advocate. Reach her at food@theadvocate.com.