The olive is an oddity - a fruit that's mostly raised for the oil in its flesh. (There's also a high-quality oil in its seed, which is where you find the oil in most plants.) For this reason, and because it's bitter, we don't think of it as a fruit.
But it's treated as a fruit in a way you might not expect. Turkey and the eastern Arab countries - Egypt, Syria and Lebanon - generally don't go for the idea of cooking meat with fruit. This is really a new thing, because there was no such taboo in the Middle Ages, but it extends to olives.
As a result, a line runs diagonally through the olive-raising world from the Balkans to North Africa. To the west of it, in Italy, southern France, Spain and North Africa, olives often show up in stews, pates, meat pies and stuffed meat dishes. But to the east, though olives are certainly beloved, they are eaten raw. They garnish salads and occasionally even cooked dishes, but rarely, if ever, are they cooked.
Foil turns 50
This year is the 50th anniversary of aluminum foil. It was in 1947 that Reynolds Aluminum started marketing foil for home use. (The original idea in the early '40s had been that large commercial kitchens would be the market.)
It's hard to imagine our world now without aluminum foil, but it wasn't a self-evident thing at first. The production-line workers at the first aluminum foil plant in Louisville, Ky., were mostly women, and some were so jazzed about this new convenience that they went door to door talking to housewives about it.
As the end of the century approaches, the food-recovery movement may be gathering force, but inspiration behind the concept of gleaning is biblical: The Old Testament makes it mandatory to set aside leftovers from an already-harvested field, orchard or vineyard for the needy.
"When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not wholly reap the corners of your field, nor shall you gather the gleanings of your harvest.
"And you shall not glean your vineyard, nor shall you gather every grape of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the stranger" (Leviticus 19:9-10).
Deuteronomy 24:19 echoes those injunctions, adding "the fatherless, and the widow" to those in need.
But those laws come to life vividly in the Book of Ruth, when, faced with no means of support, the widowed Ruth goes to the fields after the reapers to glean barley for her mother-in-law Naomi and herself.
Sugar and spice
This has to be one of the oddest cookbook concepts ever. Spice for Life: Spicy Food for the Sensitive Stomach (Helicobacter Pylori Foundation, 1997) is a cookbook with a message, and the message is that most ulcers are caused by a bacterium. Little cartoon characters announce ulcer facts among the recipes.
The reason a prominent chef such as Nancy Longo, owner of the highly regarded Pierpoint Restaurant in Baltimore, would devote her efforts to this project is that for generations, ulcer sufferers have been told that their condition is caused by stress and spicy food. Having an ulcer was a sentence to a lifetime of bland food. The cheerful moral of this book is that the H. pylori bacterium can be knocked down with an antibiotic regimen and that former ulcer patients can enjoy spicy foods without hesitation.
There are 36 recipes in the 18-page book (printed on washable board). It's available to consumers at no cost. To obtain a copy, call (800) 761-9809.
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