Olive Oil

This is the third article in September of the School for Housewives 1909 series published on September 19, 1909, and is an article on the benefits of olive oil and to use only the purest.

Transcribed from the Sunday edition of the The Buffalo Sunday Morning News.

Olive Oil

IMPRIMIS; it must be Olive Oil!

Once upon a time, and not a hundred years ago, a certain “promoter,” who is now a millionaire, took me into confidence concerning the “tricks of the trade.” Said trade, at that time, was the education of the great American public into the manifold merits and innumerable uses of the product, the name of which stand at the head of this page. He was the originator and backer of a firm which advertised “Genuine Oil of Lucca.” The phrase, borrowed from Sydney Smith’s celebrated recipe for salad dressing, was flaunted conspicuously in their circulars.

“The spoon with Oil of Lucca crown” made a taking trade-mark.

A Scheme Unmasked.

The speculation was booming fast and loudly when I had my talk with the parent thereof. If his advertisements were to be believed, he had fenced in every olive orchard in the pretty Italian town famed for its oil. Every drop offered for sale was shipped direct to his warehouses on this side of the Atlantic, and thence distributed to every city in the Union.

I have wondered since if the promoter had not a glass too much of heady champagne that evening, but his brain seemed steady and his speech coherent. Something, perhaps cleverness, had loosened his tongue. He confessed, with never a flicker of a blush, that “Lucca” was, to borrow from the Irishman’s excuse for the frozen pies he hawked as hot, “just the name of ‘em.” All the olive oil that filled bottles with the foreign trade-mark came from California.

“And every whit as good as the Italian,” he averred. “But the public must be gulled with the foreign name. We really use a fair percentage of genuine salad oil. The rest, say one-half, is the best quality of cottonseed oil. And why not? It is a pure vegetable product, and harmless, and, I dare say, nourishing. Bless your heart, my dear madame, the grocers know it, if the consumers do not. We put a well-flavored oil, with all the earmarks of the bona-fide ‘Lucca,’ within reach of the people of limited means. And,” rising into complacent animation, “we are public benefactors when you come down to the solid bottom fact. Time was when none but the rich could afford to eat salads every day.”

Find an Honest Grocer.

To prove the excellence of the counterfeit, he sent me a bottle of “Italian oil,” bearing the illuminated admonition to “crown the spoon with oil of Lucca.” To do him justice, it was not unpleasant to taste or smell. It lacked the slight greenish tinge, scarcely perceptible except in a strong light, and the faint but unmistakably nutty fragrance by which the connoisseur identifies pure olive oil. I dare say that lie was right in asserting that it was harmless. Cotton is a vegetable product.

Let that pass, with our ingenious promoter and his works. Return we to our starting point. Take the pains to get real olive oil. The pure-food laws make this easier now than in the day when our speculator with the elastic conscience took compassion upon my ignorance of business methods. Don’t be beguiled into buying cheap brands. Go to a responsible man and tell him what you want. Honest grocers are not so hard to find as some would have you think. Real, unadulterated olive oil may be had and at reasonable process. My grocer keeps it in half-gallon cans, sealed, and warrants it pure. It comes cheaper than the bottles bearing the same brand.

In Southern Europe, where olive trees are more plentiful than cotton plants, oil is used for frying to an extent that would seem incredible to the American housemother, who calls upon the butter tub or the lard can for the same purpose. There is absolutely no greasy smell about the omelets and croquettes fried in French and Italian kitchens; the oil, being lighter in weight than butter, does not interfere with the airy puffiness of beaten eggs and batter. If one be disposed to doubt of the oil sold in foreign markets and that for which we pay twice as much on this side of the water, let this fact be the test.

Fifty years ago it was not uncommon to hear objections to oil in salad dressing. Women with ultra-delicate stomachs “could not endure the taste and smell.” In my own early housewifey life I had the pleasure and the fun of converting three such prejudices by feeding them for days at a time with salads served in separate dishes from that passed to the rest of the household, hence presumably dressed with butter instead of oil. They were sensible folk and when, after hearing their praises of the salad, I made full confession, I was thanked instead of chided. If the oil be good and the blending of the various ingredients skillfully done, perhaps with a dropper, there is literally no distinctive flavor of the chief element in the compound. It adds velvety richness to the completed whole, attainable by no other process.

This is so well understood now, even by the old-fashioned cook, that I need not argue the point.

The value of olive oil as a medicinal agent has now taken firm hold upon the comprehension of the average housemother. We once were wont to think of it as a mild medicament for babies, working it into a syrup with fine sugar to delude the infant into the idea that it was confectionery. It takes a more dignified place in the family material medica now. A tablespoonful of the best olive oil, taken three times a day, is prescribed for stubborn constipation. It acts as a gentle laxative, and painlessly, at the same time nourishing the whole body and building up wasted tissues.

Anemic children have been restored to health by perseverance on the part of parents in feeding them with pure olive oil, in doses of a teaspoonful every three hours per day for a month, gradually increasing the quantity. The oil must be of the best quality, not half cottonseed grease, and perfectly sweet. In time the child becomes fond of it. I have in mind one little fellow who looked forward zestfully to the threat of a full tablespoonful before each meal. He gained flesh under the regimen, and flesh of the kind that rejoices the parental eye—firm and rosy. His skin was clear and soft, and even his hair improved in texture and luster.

One disciple of the olive-oil school assumes me that at least four cases of threatening appendicitis have come under his observation that were warded off by a steady course of pure olive oil—a tablespoonful every three hours for a week. Symptoms of tuberculosis have been arrested in another family by the same practice, continued for a whole winter and bringing out the patient in the spring not only well but plump.

As a flesh food it takes high rank with masseurs. Puny babies should be rubbed with it daily, at least twice, after the morning and night bath. It must be worked gently and evenly into the whole surface of the body with the palm of the operator’s hand. If the child shows signs of having taken cold, especial attention is paid to the throat and chest. An incipient cold and sore throat may be averted by administering a teaspoonful of oil, beaten to a cream with half as much powdered sugar, and fed to the child three times a day.

A crowning advantage of what may be called the “olive-oil treatment” is that the patient, young or old, cannot be injured by it. It is food as well as medicine, and no matter how it is used it is never a “drug.” Life might be sustained for days by a diet of pure oil, if the stomach could retain it.

Travelers in Southern Europe and in the Orient are struck with wonder and admiration at the important part played by the olive tree in the lives of the inhabitants. In Palestine the otherwise bare hills are clothed with the silver-gray foliage. The fruit is gathered whole for export; ground into pulp from which the precious oil is expressed; the pomace left from the oil press is dried for fuel, and the roots of old trees, removed to make room for younger or to be wrought into articles of use and ornament, are the chief firewood of the country. I saw no other in Jerusalem and Jericho. But for the olive groves the native population would starve.

Then and there, as never before, we entered into the full significance and beauty of the words which the disinherited son of the dead judge of Israel attributes to the olive in the stinging satire hurled from the hilltop at the rebel host in the valley beneath:

“But the olive tree said, ‘Shall I leave my fatness, wherewith by me they honor God and man, and go to be promoted over the trees.’”

Marion Harland

OTHER ARTICLES ALSO PUBLISHED…
Family Meals for a Week
The Housemothers’ Exchange