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Adelaide City Olives


Olives grow across the city of Adelaide in groves, along the bank of the Torrens River, in the parklands, the squares and the cemetery. Olives were first planted here in the 1830s when the first Europeans came. The variety was a common European Olive (Olea europaea) from Lombardy in Italy. Initially there were large olive groves in and around the edges of the newly built city. The oil won a prize in London 1851 for its purity, which set off a frenzied planting of thousands of trees. From the beginning these were public plantings and belonged to the and city council. This is still the case today.


The first olive press was set up in the Adelaide Gaol. The poor, insane and destitute of the new colony picked the olives and the prisoners operated the press and worked in the groves. The expansion of the industry decimated many nutritious native pants that had kept the Kaurna people healthy and strong for over 45,000 years and ironically even though the benefits of a Mediterranean diet were well known by then, the oil and the olives were not eaten. These new arrivals on Kaurna Land were largely English and urban and preferred lard and butter in their cooking. Even when used as salad dressing, it was common to hide the oil flavour with too much vinegar.


Oil was mostly used for industrial purposes and even in my childhood it was only sold to the public in small bottles from the chemist to keep you regular. It wasn't until years after the post second world war migration of Greeks and Italians that the culinary delights of the ancient olive were appropriately embraced by South Australians.


In Whitmore Square there are a number of very old olive trees but these have grown so tall it is impossible to pick them without a ladder. I did this one year but it was a little conspicuous and I wasn't really sure of the rules. I now know you need a licence from the council so I forage secretly taking only what we need.


The city groves are picked for oil and it's possible to buy West Terrace Cemetery Oil at Jagger's stall in the central market ( but get in quick as there are only 250 small bottles produced each year) The oil is light and mild and doesn't have the strong pepper or citrus flavours of the best South Australian oils. This is what made it so valued in its time. It's quite bland. I prefer the fruit rather than the oil.




I forage for olives for preserving from my secret trees after the licensed oil pickers have gone and the fruit is very ripe. The fruit is small and round and mostly pip, so they are generally not thought of as eating olives but the flavour is deliciously surprising. They are sweet and nutty- too delicate to brine.


Once picked, we cover them in course salt for around 4 weeks, or until they no longer taste bitter, then we rinse and dry them and cover them in olive oil in clean jars with a bay leaf or just on their own.


When I serve these olives to friends and family, the unusual flavour sparks conversations well beyond the culinary. The taste, the place, the heritage, the stories - all in a little black gem.



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Lucky enough to try Janet's delicious little olives and Qince paste while waitign to go out for dinner. Oil around olives leaked a bit in transit so the top ones were wrinkly which makes the flavor more intense. The quince paste was surprisingly not sweet. Thanks for all your effort to make the day more pleasurable and authentic.

J'aime
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