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The Tradition and History of Olive Oil Part 1

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It is among the oldest known cultivated trees in the world – being grown before the written language was invented. It was being grown on Crete by 3,000 BC and may have been the source of the wealth of the Minoan kingdom. The Phoenicians spread the olive to the Mediterranean shores of Africa and Southern Europe.

The ancient Greeks brought olive cultivation to their colonies: Sicily, southern France, the west coast of Spain and the Black Sea coast. They loved and deified the olive tree and attributed a religious and sacrosanct character to its origin, condemning to death anyone who destroyed an olive tree. Messengers would come to conclude peace carrying an olive branch, while the only award for the winners at the Olympic Games was a wreath from an olive branch. Many Greek philosophers studied the medicinal properties of this sacred tree. Dioscorides, Diocles, Anaxagoras, Empedocles, Hippocrates; the Hippocratic code features more than 60 olive treatments. Symbol of peace, wisdom, fertility, prosperity, luck, victory. No fruit bearing tree in our land has been praised, painted, sung, as much as the olive tree. This tree, that loves the sea and the Mediterranean sun, grows even on arid and rocky soils and survives under drought conditions and strong winds. It has accompanied the inhabitants of this land in times of both prosperity, and deprivation and has left its imprint in every aspect of the cultural tradition of the Mediterranean people.

Athens is named from the Goddess Athena who brought the olive to the Greeks as a gift. Zeus had promised to give Attica to the god or goddess who made the most useful invention. Athena’s gift of the olive, useful for light, heat, food, medicine and perfume was picked as a more useful invention than Poseidon’s horse – touted as a rapid and powerful instrument of war. Athena planted the original olive tree on a rocky hill that we know today as the Acropolis in Athens. The olive tree that grows there today we believe that is coming from the roots of the original tree.

The olive tree was associated with athletic competitions held throughout Greece in ancient times. At the Olympic Games, first held in 776 BC in honor of Zeus, athletes were massaged with olive oil , power and strength of Athena would be bestowed upon them. The winners were awarded olive leaf crowns and olive oil. But it wasn’t just athletes who benefited. It was also believed that if you polished a statue of Zeus with olive oil, Zeus would be so honored that he would grant you a long and happy life. The Olive wreath also known as kotinos was the prize for the winner at the Olympic Games, It was a branch of the wild olive tree Kallistefanos Elea that grew at Olympia as we already mention. The branches of the sacred wild-olive tree near the temple of Zeus were cut by a “pais amfithalis” (a boy whose parents were both alive) with a pair of golden scissors. Then he took them to the temple of Hera and placed them on a gold-ivory table. From there, the Hellanodikai (the judges of the Olympic Games) would take them, make the wreaths and crown the winners of the Games.

The production of Olive Oil has been lost deep in the centuries. The History is taking us back at 3500 BC during the Minoan period but the production theoretically it starts at 4000 BC. An alternative theory says that the first production of olive oil happened at the area of Israel. The olive oil use to be used not only as food but as medicine too. The olive oil also has been used to made soap and other products for the protection and the care of the body skin. The first recorded export of oil is in the Hebrew bible and it took place during the exit from the Egypt on the 13th century BC. That time of period the oil was exported by humans hands and has been kept in special containers protected to the priests hands. These mills were estimated to produce 1,000 to 3,000 tons of olive oil each year. The crop of the olive oil trees took place in Crete after the Minoan civilization and it was very important for the island’s economic status and actually became the most powerful product of the Minoan civilization symbol of wealth and power.

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The Tradition and History of Olive Oil Part 2
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Loukoumi is the child of Chef/Owner Kostas Avlonitis, who is credited with opening one of the first Greek restaurants in New York City.
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