Olives are fruits, and one of the oldest cultivated foods in the world. They are native to the Mediterranean and Asia, and parts of Africa. They were eaten by the Minoans in Crete over 3,000 years ago and are mentioned in ancient Greek and Roman writings. The trees live a long time - in Israel's Galilee region, some trees have been determined to be over 3,000 years ago and are still producing olives.
The fruits ripen in the fall, and that's when the harvest begins. The fruits in their natural form are bitter, and need to be cured before they can be eaten. Green and black olives are from the same plant, with the black olives being more riper.
I tried curing my own olives one year, but they came out tasting horrible. I'm sure I did something wrong in the recipe, and I haven't attempted to do this again since mostly due to forgetfulness. Should you desire to cure your own olives, there are many instructions available on the internet:
By the way, in the photo at the top of this post, I'm not sure what's the deal with the "Sweet Olives for Frying." I came up empty on Google, and forgot to ask the farmer. Does anyone know?
(Images: Kathryn Hill)