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The Olive Tree in My Kitchen by Helen Melser

Helen Melser travelled the world to visit olive groves and connect with their owners. She has touched the ancient, gnarled bark of a 3000-year olive tree, which is still alive and well in Crete, taken a ride on a camel in a desert in Morocco, and sampled frozen olives in China. Her passion for olive trees and all that can be produced from their fruit, leaves and flowers is boundless and inspiring.

The Olive Tree in My Kitchen includes her fascinating travel stories, a very brief history of the olive world (ancient and modern), a chapter on extra virgin olive oil, and many recipes.

Olive trees were already being grown in antiquity and have been a source of food for at least 5000-6000 years. Ancient groves still survive and across the world the number of olive trees being planted is rapidly increasing as awareness of the many health benefits of not only the olive fruit and extra virgin olive oil but also the leaf has grown.

The best place to buy extra virgin olive oils is at Farmer’s Markets. Here the oils will be fresh, you can do tastings and growers will tell you which foods they would pair them with, although in the end your own taste will dictate which combination will work best for you. This sounds like a wonderful idea. Come summer we will do it!

Use my recipes as springboards for your own creativity and let your own sense of taste be your guide, she suggests. Most of her recipes require only a few ingredients and they are quick and easy to put together. I raided my secret lockdown chocolate stash to make her chocolate olive oil pate. It required only two healthy ingredients, extra virgin oil and dark chocolate and it was finger-licking good! We loved it best slathered on wholemeal toast. Her Ultimate Chocolate and Extra Virgin chocolate mousse was as smooth as silk and ambrosial for dessert.

I served her black bean and olive oil humus as a predinner nibble on bread crisps. It sounded like rather an unusual combination, but the olives added a pleasingly pungent flavour to the beans.

Recently it has been discovered that olive leaves are also very beneficial for one’s health. But be warned, at this stage olive leaf tea is not recommended for pregnant or breastfeeding mothers, and for people with some medical conditions, as possible side effects are still unknown.

My neighbour kindly left a branch of olive leaves on my doorstep, so we were able to try the chilled Fresh Olive Leaf tonic, to which I added some slices of cucumber and halved grapes. It was, as promised a refreshing subtly flavoured infusion and looked very decorative.

Christmas is coming, always a good excuse for some festive baking and good cheer. I am already looking forward to tempting our whanau with more of her recipes, especially her perfect Chocolate Extra Virgin Martini, Ladoo Truffles with Cranberries and platters of her marinated and crispy beer battered olives. But not her melt-in-the-mouth Olive Shortbread, there are some family traditions that are expected to be maintained at our house so Edmond’s shortbread it will have to be.

Anyone who loves trying their hand at creating healthy new recipes which make use of extra virgin olive oil, olives or olive leaves will find much to inspire them in this book.

Reviewer: Lyn Potter

Bateman Books


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