I would not begin to presume to write a scholarly essay regarding the history of the process of extracting olive oil from the fruit of olive trees. That history is long and involved. Both the fruit, and the oil, have been agricultural staples dating back 6000 years. Suffice it to say that I have read that the cultivation of olive trees is one of the earliest signs of civilization. Thousands of years ago, the precious, delicious and healthy oil was stored in jars. These jars were high shouldered, and short necked. Every country that makes pots produces its own version of the olive jar. In my own collection of hand made Italian terra cotta is an olive jar which dates back to the 17th century.
There was that long length of time when olive oil was not processed for export, bottled, and shipped. It was stored in jars, the design of which helped to keep the oil fresh. Countless varieties of olive trees means that many people all over the globe enjoy olive oil of different flavors. Today, 99% of all of the olive oil produced comes from those countries that ring the Mediterranean sea. If you have not had the pleasure of soaking a piece of handmade bread with a great olive oil, I would encourage you to do so. The oil from the olive trees, in my opinion, is a food group well worth including in any diet.
Olive oil is not stored and shipped in jars anymore. But that jar shape is a shape that persists. Jars make great garden containers. I have an abiding interest in how agriculture came to include ornamental gardening. Those moments when a landscape refers in a strong way to the history of agriculture is of great interest to me. This means I like jars.
I have no olive trees. I do not grow vegetables. I do not have an orchard, or fields to plow. I am not a farmer. But I am a gardener whose roots has plenty to do with agriculture. I have an olive jar which I plant with flowers every year. A great planting that thrives is a joy. But equally important is a beautiful container whose shape dates back centuries.
An olive jar is a shape any gardener recognizes. Every culture, every country has pots of this distinctive shape. High shoulders, and low necks. Though I may buy all of vegetables from a farmer’s market, or grocery store, that shape that I recognize as an olive jar never fails to please my eye.
This Italian made strawberry jar from Mital, a pottery in Impruneta, Italy -this is a beautiful jar. There are many beautiful ways to plant it. I do think that the containers that are home to annual and seasonal plants are an important visual element in a garden. Olive jars make great containers for the garden. Every one of them is soaked in the broth we know as history.