Enamorata Kalamata

Indulging a passion for olives.

| January/February 2005

  • Nancy Allison

  • The Kalamata region is home to 15 million olive trees.
    Nancy Allison

Most people choose their holidays on the basis of opposites. If it’s cold where they live, they opt for someplace warm. Flatlanders go skiing. Desert dwellers find the sea. Me, I let my stomach decide. What else can I do, when the foods I love call constantly from their homelands and invite me to dine? When we can, my stomach and I try to oblige.

This past summer, my husband and I chose Kalamata, the home of those luscious black olives from Greece. They’d been beckoning for years from the ring finger of Greece’s hand-shaped westerly island, the Peloponnese. Sure, we’d had imported kalamatas from the deli, but the time had come to eat them on their own turf. So when everyone else flocked to Athens to watch the Olympics, we flew to Kalamata to engage in a favorite sport of our own.

Mountains of Olives

From London, it was only a two-and-a-half-hour flight. Over France and Germany, a quick dip over Austria, down the toe of Italy, and then the earth disappeared and a sheet of rippling sapphire replaced it. Eensy-weensy sailboats popped up here and there and then whoosh! We turned a hard right and there were mountains from a train set, covered with knobbly green felt.

And the olive trees! Just the sight of them made me salivate.

Not everyone drools, but nobody arrives in the Greek islands without noticing the olive groves. As we drove through the Taiyetos mountains to our home for the next two weeks, we were greeted by sheer cliffs and magnificent gorges, bushy outcrops of wild herbs, and thousands and thousands of olive trees.

Thank Heaven for Athena

Mythologically speaking, the olive came to Greece by way of the goddess Athena. In a contest with Poseidon to gain patronage of the capital city, the two deities competed to come up with the most original and useful gift. Poseidon cracked his staff against the rock of the Acropolis and salt water gushed out; Athena stamped her foot and an olive tree grew. The father of the gods knew a good thing when he saw it: Athena won; the city was named in her honor; and the olive tree has sustained Greece ever since.

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