When I was a wee child, I loved black olives. I’m talking about the pitted ones, straight out the can and tasting of metal as much as anything else. I think it was mostly because I could stick them on the ends of my fingers and march them around like the guards at Buckingham Palace.
Yes, as a 4-year-old born in Oregon, I was already an Anglophile. Blame Captain Kangaroo.
Anyway, somewhere around 5 or 6, I suddenly hated olives. This might have been concurrent with my sudden hatred of cheese (and I do mean sudden—one day I had a grilled cheese sandwich for lunch and the next day informed my mother that I hated cheese; I can still remember the look of total bafflement on her face). But the cheese hatred ended when I was about 12.
Olives, on the other hand, I despised for decades. Even olive oil was distasteful to me.
I remember when that started to change. It was my first visit to Ann Arbor to spend a week with Ferrett, some 16 years ago. He took me to Macaroni Grill, and they gave us bread with olive oil for dipping. They dressed it up with cracked pepper and freshly grated parmesan cheese, and though I turned up my nose at the idea, Ferrett encouraged me to at least taste it.
I didn’t like it.
At least not on the first taste. It was bitter and sharp and musty. But after a few minutes my taste buds said, “Hmm, try that again.” And I still didn’t like it, but I didn’t like it in an intriguing way that brought me back for several more tastes.
In a very short time, I liked olive oil. But only mild olive oil, and certainly not olives. Then by a couple years later I liked stronger olive oils, but not olives.
It wasn’t that I try. I’d figured out that black olives from a can were a bastardized and dreadful creation that would never be any good. But by that time it was pretty easy to find decent quality olives around, and I would try them now and again. No-go. Even salads with olives chopped into them were nasty to me.
In 2008, for my 50th birthday, we went to New Orleans. Someone told Ferrett that we must make a trip to Central Grocery for their muffaletta sandwich. The sandwich is a kind of meat-and-cheese concoction with a thick layer of olive salad. I was willing to walk with him to Central Grocery so that he could have the experience, but I was only going to take a single bite of this olive-laced monstrosity.
After my fourth bite, Ferrett huffily (and justifiably) told me to get back in line and get my own. The funny thing is, I was still having a wincing reaction to the olives, but around that it was delicious.
Still, my attempts at approaching the unadorned olive were still abortive at best. I really wanted to like them, tried time and again, winced through eating them, and was generally failing.
Then in 2014 we went to Italy. And there I ate olives, olives in quantity, olives of beauty. I feasted upon olives.
Then I came home and ate them only rarely. But last week Erin came over with a container of olives from the olive bar at the grocery store, and she and I ate olives and drank wine and that was dinner.
And this afternoon, walking by the olive bar, I craved them again. And brought home olives. Which Erin and I nibbled at while cooking dinner. For which I sautéed the vegetables in a grassy, strong olive oil.
The odd thing is, part of my tongue still isn’t pleased by either the olives or the oil. I both like them and wince at them. But I’ve learned to appreciate that wince at the bitter, and enjoy the rest of it even more because of that odd complexity.
And the other day I ate on olive garnishing some baba ganoush. The moment it was in my mouth, I knew it was an olive from a can. Those? Are still disgusting.