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Olive Oyl/King Features

We didn’t have a TV when I was growing up (I know! but it’s true!!).  But my best friend Taffy had one, as did other friends, so somehow stray bits and pieces of TV-lands-and-people crept into my brain.  One of these was Popeye and his interestingly shaped girlfriend Olive Oyl.

In fact, I knew this crowd pretty well from the daily comic strip in the North Adams Transcript (Popeye first appeared way back in 1929, and King Features still presents the strip, the creation of Elzie Crisler Segar. Interestingly, Robin Williams’ first movie role was in the 1980 film adaptation (Jules Feiffer, Robert Altman) of the cartoon). I never cared much for Popeye.  Unable to see the kind, generous and lovable character behind his ‘coarse’ speech and fightin’ ways, I avoided him and his cronies (Wimpy, arch-rival Bluto, etc.) for the more mundane Peanuts and Archie.  Talk about Wimpy!

As far as I knew back in those days, olive oil was a misspelled character; we didn’t know anything about olive oil in the mid- to late-20th century New England kitchen, and we certainly didn’t have any in the cupboard.  That all changed sometime in the latter part of the century as Mediterranean cuisine became popular in the States, both for its deliciousness and for its health benefits.  In fact, worldwide consumption of olive oil grew substantially, from 1,779,000 MT in 1990 to 2,553,000 in 2005. Suddenly restaurants were offering little saucers of oil for dipping bread, and connoisseurs were comparing flavors and production methodologies.  Olive oil became a low-key cooking and eating craze. (If you’d like to read an account of our own olive harvest, click here and here.)

Hirts Gardens photo

Italians have been cooking with and consuming olive oil from the year dot. Perhaps it is just their good fortune that natural circumstances gave them a fat product from a tree rather than from a cow. 1 tablespoon of butter contains 12 grams of fat, 8 of which are saturated (bad!) and it has 33 mg of cholesterol; 1 tablespoon of olive oil contains 14 grams of fat, only 2 of which are saturated, and it has no cholesterol at all.  In addition, olive oil contains antioxidenats, beta-caratene and vitamin E.  AND it tastes great and makes everything else taste great too.

Imagine our surprise when we received the wonderful Puritan’s Pride catalog the other day, and discovered that you can now buy olive oil in softgels.  Why on earth would you want to when you can buy a lot of olive oil in a bottle and have the pleasure of consuming it on salads and in sauces?  Pills??  Only, I think, in America! Then consider the economics of the thing.  You can get 300 60-mg softgels of olive oil (just writing it makes me shake my head) for $21.98.  That’s 10 ounces of olive oil for $21.98 – kind of pricey, if you ask me.  In fairness, the same catalog offers a 16 ounce bottle of cold-pressed organic extra-virgin olive oil for $9.63, as well as an olive leaf complex.

photo from China Suppliers.com

It makes me think of all the Futurama stuff we read about when we were kids watching Popeye – we would all zip around with personal jet-packs, and we wouldn’t have to eat food anymore because we’d be getting all our nutrients from pills. What a horrid thought that is! My advice? When in Rome, or anywhere else for that matter, do as the Romans – use lots of olive oil, but use it from a bottle, not from a softgel!

(More info on olive growing and harvesting here and here, and a photo album of the harvest and pressing here.)