I bring you a flavor from my childhood days this month.
Every summer, my mother and father managed to find someone with a green olive tree. Friends would gather, and a large burlap sack full of freshly picked green olives would find itself in our backyard.
A hammer, rubber gloves, and a chopping board was placed in front of each person. I would sit and watch, fascinated at the trouble they would go to merely eat this salad.
The olives were smashed with a hammer, one by one on the wooden cutting board. The seed was then extracted and the green fragments were tossed into a large ceramic bowl. When all the olive meat was separated, cold water was added to cover the olives, and allowed to stand for three days. If you did not wear rubber gloves, your hands were stained brown from the squirting olive juice.
After three days of soaking, the water was drained off and fresh water added. This process of curing was repeated daily, until the olives lost their bitterness. An uncured olive is incredibly bitter.
When the fruit is at last sweet, it was canned in sterilized jars with salt brine. Then, it was tucked away in the pantry to be used for special occasions.
My folks entertained weekly, but this olive salad was only prepared for friends who appreciated and understood the time-consuming preparation. A whole sack of olives made very few quarts.
It was always used as an appetizer, and served with lavash bread that had been softened by wrapping it in wet towels for a few hours. You would take a piece of bread, hold it between your middle finger and thumb, dip it into the bowl and wrap it around the olive salad, and then pop it in your mouth!
I had completely forgotten about this delicacy until my cousin’s Italian girlfriend, Marcie, made it for us one evening. She had learned it from a mutual friend using canned olives. It was remarkably similar. It is truly soul food – for my soul, anyway! – and easy to make.
MOM’S GREEN OLIVE APPETIZER
From the village of Aintab
16 oz can pitted green olives
2/3 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
4 stems finely chopped green onions, white and green parts
3 tbsp tomato paste
3 tbsp finely chopped parsley
juice of 1/2 lemon
salt to taste
red cayenne pepper, optional
By hand, coarsely chop the green olives. Place in bowl, and add the other ingredients and mix. Taste, and adjust lemon and salt flavors to your taste.
Serve with moistened lavash bread or pita wedges. Enjoy!