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Posts Tagged ‘brining olives’

The moment I saw them in the produce department I knew exactly what they were! I rushed over, my grocery cart making an abrupt left. My squeal of delight must have sounded like a siren as other shoppers pulled over and let me pass causing a gapers’ block in between the peaches and plums!

Olives!

If you live in a Mediterranean climate, you likely see fresh olives in season. If you live in the midwest, you probably have never seen them. Olive trees do not grow in our erratic climate with our harsh, cold winters, long, dry spells, temperature fluctuations, etc. I knew what this box was because once, just once that I can recall, they sat on the small counter of our kitchen.

My cart – and I – came to a screeching halt. I reached into the box and felt the olives, still hard, rolling them around and through my hand like marbles. Memories came flooding back to that small kitchen in Maywood where I felt the love and security of family, where everyone gathered, and where I watched and waited and learned the magic of food in my grandmother’s hands.

The story begins with Romeo, a friend of my father’s who came to our house several times a week. Romeo wore baggy pants and sweaters and shirts that had seen better days. He and Daddy would talk fishing, the news, family and such as they sat at the kitchen table, drank coffee and ate whatever sweets my Yia Yia (my grandmother) or my mother would set before them. Romeo had a kind manner and gentle laugh. If Daddy wasn’t home, Romeo would stay until he returned, helping me with homework, curious as to what I was learning, chatting with Ma or Yia Yia, comfortable at our table.

It wasn’t until I was a teenager that Daddy told me that Romeo was very rich. His family owned real-estate in the city and a chain of stores. He also told me that Romeo had scars all the way down his back from wounds he suffered in WWII. Much later, long after my father passed away, when I had children of my own, that Romeo died. Many in my family went to the wake to pay respects to his wife and children, then sat and quietly talked as people tend to do at wakes. I sat reading the memorial card and was surprised at the name, which was NOT Romeo! Bewildered, we wondered aloud over how the name Romeo came about, certain there was an interesting story  that we would never know, but, I digress. This isn’t so much about Romeo as it is about olives, except that it was Romeo who brought my grandmother the fruit of the gods.

I came home one day to see a crate of  hard, green fruit sitting on the kitchen counter. I remember my grandmother’s happiness and appreciation over the contents that came all the way from California. Romeo had been on vacation there where family members lived. He brought the olives back. Did he have them shipped or did he bring them himself? I am not certain, but, I think he personally carried them on the plane!

What I do remember is the hammering as each olive was split open, revealing but not extracting the pit. What a racket that was! I remember days, or was it weeks, of the olives sitting in salty water on the countertop, then in bowls with seasonings in the refrigerator. I would sneak an olive here and there when no one was looking. I ate enough that my face broke out in hives. All that olive oil!  My thievery was exposed and my olive caper was up! They were on to me. Daddy gently but firmly said “Penny, these aren’t candy and if you eat too many you will be sick.” 

In those mere moments in the grocery store, I remembered the summer of Greek olives; the flavors, that crisp first bite followed by the tasty inner flesh and the lingering sensation that seemed to last long after the olive was consumed. I imagined the hard pit placed on the side of my plate, but only after I’d eaten every bit of olive on it, with family or friends or both gathered in that small kitchen with a large welcoming feel – and I remembered a kind man’s gift and a gifted woman’s talents.

My cart once again rolling, I checked off items on my list and then headed over to the olive bar, making a selection of green olives that would not last long in our own refrigerator.Romeo, oh Romeo . . .

 

 

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