September 27, 2005 > Olive Festival
by Tina Cuccia
"The olive tree is surely the richest gift of heaven."
Get out the dipping bread! The 5th annual Mission San Jose Chamber of Commerce Olive Festival takes place October 1 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. in the Dominican olive grove located behind the historic Old Mission San Jose Museum in Fremont. It's your opportunity to sample a variety of olives and olive oils and taste some delicious olive oil-inspired dishes.
But that's not all. The Olive Festival offers something for the entire family including plenty of great food, wine tasting, live music, arts and crafts, entertainment, kids games, face painting, a "olive themed" costume contest for kids (further information is available at www.msjchamber.org), drawings, prizes and much more.
Of course the main attraction of the Olive Festival is, well, olives and olive oil. Plenty of artisan olive oils from all over the Bay Area will be on hand in addition to olive oils from outside the Bay Area. And this year for the first time, local restaurants Pearl's Café and Mirchi Café as well as Trader Joes will provide food demonstrations. "They will cook or prepare something anyone can do using olives or olive oil," said Gael Stewart, Chair of Mission San Jose Chamber of Commerce Olive Festival. "People can learn just by watching and then do them [the recipes] at home," she added.
Stewart describes the event as a unique district event that takes place in a "charming open field surrounded by olive trees." In fact, that's how she describes the entire historic Mission area. "It's a romantic and charming area -- the last bastion of old community."
The Olive Festival is not just comprised of business owners, but residents of the community, too. "It brings together businesses and the community," Stewart said.
The olive tree is one of the oldest known cultivated trees in the world bearing one of the oldest known domesticated crops. Grown in Crete around 3,000 BC, it spread to the Mediterranean regions of Africa and southern Europe by Phoenicians. According to historical records, Egyptians in 2,000 BC used olives as did Greeks and Romans. Today, over 90 percent of world's olive production is used to make oil, and approximately 98 percent of the acreage is in the Mediterranean region. California produces less than 5 percent of the world crop.
Olive oil has been more than just food to the people of the Mediterranean who have described it as liquid gold, magical, medicinal and spiritual. In Egypt, Greece and Rome, olive oil was mixed with flowers and herbs to create perfumes, medicines and cosmetics.
Olive oil and olive trees have also come to symbolize abundance, peace, glory, benediction, purification and honor.
Olive trees are considered practically immortal. Their incredible resistance to harsh elements probably helped bolster the notion that olive oil would provide strength and youth to those who consume it. In many cultures, olive branches also symbolize peace, longevity, fertility, maturity, wealth and prosperity.
Through the years, olive oil has been used by various religions and cultures for its medicinal qualities and for special ceremonies. Christian churches use the oil in baptism ceremonies, while Greeks have used it to anoint their kings and winning athletes. Some cultures use it to anoint the dead.
Olive oil is also good for your health. Scientific studies suggest that the oil may be one of the primary reasons that people of the Mediterranean have fewer incidences of cancer than occur in the United States. Olive oil helps the body assimilate vitamins A, D and K, and it has been called a liquid fountain of youth for slowing down the aging process due to the oil's benefits for the liver among other things. Science has also proven that the circulatory system is stimulated by a diet that includes olive oil.
While olive oil is about 75 percent monounsaturated fat, it is unsaturated fat - considered the "good guy" of fats. Unsaturated fats are found in avocados, olive oil, fish and more, and are known for increasing your energy and strength and improving your skin texture.
Olive oil can also be used as a moisturizer for your skin (just rub it into the surface of your hands like a lotion) and for your hair (comb a generous amount into your hair then shampoo it out for a natural hair conditioning treatment).
But chances are your first and lasting impression of olive oil is on your palate. While olive is used abundantly in all types of food, you may be surprised to discover just how versatile it is - it's not just good for salad dressings and as a dip for your bread! Olive oil is ideal for saut éing veggies and meats - even used in place of butter for pan-scrambled eggs; add a bit of salt and pepper and then sprinkle some parmesan cheese on top. You can use olive oil in place of butter or other types of vegetable oils that may be higher in cholesterol.
For a quick meal, drizzle some olive oil over your favorite pasta and sprinkle on a touch of shredded parmesan cheese along with chopped fresh basil. It's a light and healthy meal that's full of flavor.
Olive oil is also perfect for baking fish, putting on baked potatoes, and making a variety of salad dressings. The uses of olive oil in dishes are endless, all you need to do is experiment.
While the olive tree has been cultivated for thousands of years, it has been difficult to trace its heritage. According to Greek mythology, Athens was named after the Goddess Athena who brought the olive to the Greeks as a gift that proved useful for light, heat, food, medicine and perfume. Athena planted the original olive tree on a rocky hill known today as Acropolis. The olive tree that grows there today is said to have come from the roots of Athena's original tree.
A relative newcomer, the Olive tree spread to the Americas, Japan, New Zealand and Australia in the past few centuries. As Franciscan priests came to California and established missions, they brought olives with them. While the first olive trees were planted in Southern California, most of the older groves now exist in Northern California.
Olive groves flourished in Fremont with the establishment of Mission San Jose. For the past four years, the Mission San Jose District of Fremont has organized the Olive Festival to build community spirit and celebrate Fremont's history of olives.
Mission San Jose was founded in 1797 and was the 14th of 21 Spanish missions established in California by troops under Sergeant Pedro Amador and accompanied by Father Fermín Lasu én. The only surviving building from the Spanish period, a monastery, today serves as a museum that houses a collection of artifacts, vestments and memorabilia. In the cemetery located on the grounds are graves of many prominent Spanish and American settlers. Mission San Jose opened for daily Mass and tours in 1985 after a four-year reconstruction.
Saturday, Oct. 1
10 a.m. - 5 p.m.
Historic Mission San Jose
Mission Blvd. and Washington Blvd.
Parking will be available at Ohlone College Parking Lot E. For further information, please visit www.msjchamber.org.