In ancient Greece, Olympic champions were rewarded with wreaths of olives and amphoras (jars) of olive oil, so it seems appropriate to speak of olives and olive oil while the winter games are in progress in Italy.

In ancient Greece, Olympic champions were rewarded with wreaths of olives and amphoras (jars) of olive oil, so it seems appropriate to speak of olives and olive oil while the winter games are in progress in Italy.

The history of the olive tree is interwoven with the history of man and its stories are every bit as fascinating. It is believed the olive tree was first cultivated in Palestine and Syria in the fourth millennium B.C.

However, it was in Greece that the olive tree flourished, in part because it grew well in rocky soil that was not good for crops or pasture.

The first instructions for preserving olives come from the Italian botanist Columell, who lived in the 1st century A.D.

Today it is in the countries of the Mediterranean that the most exquisite olive oils are produced. And they can be used in everything we cook, including desserts.


I was introduced to olive oil sweets some years ago when my friend Carol Seim had delivered to my doorstep for my birthday, a cake from Balducci's, at that time a famous purveyor of fine foods in New York's Greenwich Village.

The cake was made with olive oil and seasoned with rosemary -- and it was divine.

So I set about trying to find recipes for cakes and cookies using olive oil, which is what I use in almost everything that doesn't call for unsalted butter or lard.

I frequently add some minced rosemary from two plants residing by the south windows of my kitchen. And I began sampling a variety of olive oils to see what suited me. There are many and they vary greatly in quality and price.

For a lighter taste in baked goods, use olive oil in carrot, chocolate, spice and fruit cakes; bars, brownies; graham cracker, nut or cookie crusts; corn breads, hot batter breads, muffins and biscuits; pancakes, blinis and crepes; flat breads and pizzas.

Orange Lemon

Polenta Cake

1 orange


1 lemon

4 eggs

1?2 cup sugar

1 1?2 cups flour

1 tablespoon baking soda

Pinch of salt

1 1?4 cups olive oil

2/3 cup yellow corn meal


Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Oil an 8-inch springform pan. In a saucepan, cover orange and lemon with cold water. Bring to a simmer and cook for about 30 minutes until fruit is very soft. Drain and cool fruit and puree in a blender or food processor until smooth.

Using an electric mixer, beat eggs until pale and fluffy. Whisk in sugar. Mix flour with baking soda and salt and stir into the egg mixture and add the olive oil.

Fold in cornmeal and pureed fruit and pour the batter into prepared pan and bake for about 50 minutes until cake tests done. Remove from oven, place on a wire rack and sprinkle with confectioners' sugar. Cool and remove from pan. Serve with whipped cream or créme fraiche. Serves 6 to 8.


1. To make créme fraiche, heat 1 cup heavy cream to 100 degrees. Remove from heat and stir in 2 tablespoons plain, whole milk yogurt. Pour into a glass jar, wrap in a heavy towel and let sit on the counter overnight. Refrigerate the next day.

2. To test a cake to see if it's done, insert a toothpick and if it comes out clean, the cake is done. If the toothpick is coated with batter or crumbs, cook it a little longer.

Adapted from "Olive Oil," by Clare Gordon-Smith

Greek Cookies



1?2 cup unsalted butter, room


1?4 cup olive oil

1?4 cup sugar

1 egg

1?2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Finely grated zest of one orange


Juice of 1 orange

2 1?4 cups unsifted flour

1 1?2 teaspoons baking powder

Pinch of salt

1 cup toasted walnuts,

finely ground

Honey syrup (1/8 cup water

heated with 1?2 cup honey)


Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Beat butter until it is creamy and add olive oil and sugar and beat until fluffy. Add egg, cinnamon, orange juice and zest and stir thoroughly. In another bowl, combine flour, baking powder and salt. Add to butter mixture a little at a time. The mixture can be stirred at first, but when it thickens, turn it out on a floured board and knead in the remaining flour mixture. Then knead in 1?2 cup of the walnuts.

Form dough into a long roll about 11?2 inches in diameter. Flatten it slightly and cut into 1?4-inch slices. Arrange cookies on a lightly greased (with olive oil) baking sheet and bake for 20 to 25 minutes until cookies are a golden brown. To serve, dip cookies in warm honey syrup and roll in remaining walnuts. Makes about 2 dozen cookies.

Note: The author says that in the Greek countryside one of the ingredients of these cookies is wood ash.

Converting from butter

to olive oil

The following are the baking conversions for measurements of butter to olive oil:

  • 1 teaspoon to 3?4 teaspoon
  • 1 tablespoon to 2 1?4 teaspoons
  • 2 tablespoons to 1 1?2 tablespoons
  • 1?4 cup to 3 tablespoons
  • 1/3 cup to 1?4 cup
  • 1?2 cup to 1?4 cup plus 2 tablespoons
  • 2/3 cup to 1?2 cup
  • 3?4 cup to 1?2 cup plus 1 tablespoon
  • 1 cup to 3?4 cup

Adapted from "The Feast of The Olive," by Maggie Blyth Klein.
Resources: "Gastrono-my of Italy," by Anna Del Conte; "The Essential Olive Oil Companion," by Anne Dola-more; "Olive Oil," by Clare Gordon-Smith; "Food," by Waverley Root;

(Andrea Hunter Halgrim-son is a columnist with The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead, a Forum Communications Com-pany publication.)

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