A pimento is probably the most recognizable item that is stuffed in a green olive, but itБs not really known why or when this practice started in the first place. ItБs believed that the first olives stuffed with pimentos happened sometime in the 1700s in France, and the pimento might have been used to cut the bitterness of the olive. Pimentos are a very mild variety of chili peppers and are also known as a cherry peppers. But pimentos arenБt the only things stuffed in green olives. You can find green olives stuffed with onions, garlic, blue cheese, anchovies, almonds, or a variety of different peppers. While the question of why pimentos were first put in olives is fuzzy, how they get inserted into green olives is thankfully more clear. Olives straight from the tree are inedible. To make them edible, the green olives are placed in a brine and fermented for about nine months. When they are ready, the olives are placed in a sorting machine and then aligned to go through a pitting machine that will remove the pits of olives at the rate of 900 per minute. A coring knife pushes the pit out of one end of the olive, leaving a hole on one side and an БXБ or star shape on the other. Next comes stuffing the olive with the pimento. Up until the 1960s, pimentos were stuffed into olives by hand, a very time-consuming process.
Today, the process is mechanized but not in all cases. Higher-end olives are still stuffed by hand while lower-end olives are stuffed by a machine. To accomplish this, pimentos are purцed and a natural gum is added so the mixture can be made into tiny strips. The pimento strips are then cut and stuffed into the olive mechanically. As a comparison, it would take 20 workers all day stuffing by hand to equal the amount of olives the machine can stuff in one hour. Source:,
Good question, Sinistar! In a nutshell, I haven t been able to find an authoritative source on whose idea it was or precisely when the practice began, but all signs point toward the tradition having begun with the Picholine olive sometime during the 18th century in the Provence region of France. http://212. 155. 139. 8/cgi-bin/ncommerce3/ProductDisplay? prrfnbr=12209 prmenbr=8000 cgrfnbr=1472 cgmenbr=8000 langue=US Apparently, you re not the only one asking this question. Here s a link to an Ask Yahoo question, including some interesting speculation on the topic: http://ask. yahoo. com/ask/20010615. html From this page, All freshly picked olives, no matter how ripe, have a vile, intensely bitter taste. In order to make them palatable, they must be pickled.
Since pimentos are sweet and indigenous to the Mediterranean, it s easy to imagine an innovative farmer or chef way back when thinking they would make the perfect neutralizer to the olive s natural acidity This page provides a wealth of detail on olives and their great variety: http://www. wikipedia. com/wiki/olive The broad-leaved olive trees of Spain bear a larger fruit, but the pericarp is of more bitter flavor and the oil of ranker quality. It is these Spanish olives that are usually cured and eaten, often after being pitted, stuffed (with pickled pimento, onion, or other garnishes) and jarred in fresh brine. This page contains a catalog entry for the Picholine olive, which they claim were the olives that were first stuffed, and dates the origins of olive stuffing as early as the 18th century : http://www. igourmet. com/shoppe. asp? cat=2 subcat=Olives Picholine Olives. As early as the 18th century, producers of Picholine olives in Aix-en-Provence were stoning their olives and replacing the stone with capers, anchovies, tuna, and pimiento. This was the beginning of the tradition of stuffing olives, a popular practice still today. This page provides a discussion of olives from the book History of Druggs by Monfieur Pomet, published in 1709: http://bookofherbs. org/o/Olives_1358. htm From this page: For the Spanish Olives they are as big as a Pigeon s Egg, of a pale green, and bitter Taste, which does not please every Body; but for the Provence, especially the Picholine Olives, they are reckon d the best, because it is pretended that Messieurs Picholini of St.
Chemes knew how to pickle them better than other People, since those are the finest and best Olives, because they are much greener, and of a better Taste than the Pauline and other Olives of Provence. They are of delicate Nutriment, stomachick, pectoral, antiscorbutick, gently loosen the Belly, and are chiefly us d as Sallading. Notable here is the fact that the pickling recipes are fairly detailed, but no mention is made of stuffing olives. So, it seems likely that the tradition, if begun at all by this time, was not yet widespread enough to appear on the radar. As this passage refers specifically to the Picholine variety, it is almost safe to say that the practice began sometime after the publication of this book. Another factor that may be significant in pinning down a date is on this page, in an article by the legendary James Beard: http://www. jamesbeard. org/awards/2000/articles/magazine_with. html Contrary to certain confusing etymological implications, the large, red, heart-shaped pimento pepper (indigenous to the Americas and taken back to Spain by Columbus) If this is true, then at the very least, the practice could not have begun until well after Columbus returned to Spain, and the pimento had had a chance to take hold in the region.
This is a very broad range, of course, but it does indicate that pimentos didn t exist in Spain or France until the mid-13th century, and wouldn t have been widely available in the region until some time later. Based on this information, the practice of stuffing olives with pimento definitely didn t occur prior to Columbus returning to Spain, and probably didn t occur until sometime during the 18th century, as indicated by Monfieur Pomet s lack of information on the topic. Here s some more background on pimentos, if you re interested: http://www. simpleinternet. com/recipes/dictionary. pl? 5282 And here is a brief page describing the history of olives (no mention of the history of stuffing olives, unfortunately): http://www. olivepit. com/History_Of_Olives. asp Thanks for such an interesting question, and don t hesitate to ask if you d like further clarification. Lisa. Search strategy: olives pimentos history olives pimientos history stuffing olives practice pimentos indigenous