Julie Angus with 10-month-old Leif.

Julie Angus with 10-month-old Leif.

In Quest of the Olive

The allure of the olive tree took Julie Angus on a four-month odyssey to discover the secrets of the tiny fruit

Julie Angus has a fascination with olives.

The allure of the olive tree took the Victoria resident on a four-month odyssey to discover the secrets of the tiny fruit that has seduced the world.

Sailing from Spain to the Middle East in 2011, Angus with her husband Colin and 10-month-old baby in tow, wanted to discover who ate the first olive and learned to glean oil from it, why it became such an influential commodity for many of the greatest civilizations, and how it expanded from its earliest roots in the Middle East to the rest of the world.

The result is her new book Olive Odyssey.

The idea for the expedition was piqued while Angus was visiting family in Syria, and learning more about how the olive tree had influenced her family, its wealth, culture, religion – and the great pride they took in the fruit.

“It was all very fascinating aspects of the olive tree, and the more I started to research the more I became intrigued with it all,” Angus says.

The project was based on the question that if the olive tree was taken from the Middle East and planted on distant shores, who did this and how could they prove they did it?

To find out, Angus, a molecular scientist and adventurer, wanted to retrace trading routes, stopping in the places where merchants traded and the colonies they founded and searching for olive trees that bore their mark – a genetic signature linking them to ancient Phoenicia.

The best way to do this, she surmised, was to sail through the Mediterranean by sail boat. There was only one problem: Angus had never sailed before and she and Colin had a baby to contend with.

The sailing voyage had its challenges as fierce winds and relentless waves rocked the boat – and the baby wouldn’t sleep.

“It was challenging because babies cry a lot and you don’t get much sleep,” Angus says. “Sailing with a baby is like sailing single-handed because someone always has to be with the child.”

It turned out to be one great adventure but different from her past endurance accomplishments such as being the first woman to row across the Atlantic ocean from mainland to mainland or cycling across continents.

“This trip was different from the others because it didn’t entail so much a physical endurance challenge, but it was still about exploring and discovering new things and new lands,” Angus says.

“I loved the treasure hunt of finding ancient olive trees. It took us to places we wouldn’t normally go.”

Olive Odyssey, published by Greystone Books, is available in local bookstores. Angus has two public book signings and presentations coming up in Victoria. She’ll appear at Olive the Senses on May 24 (1 to 3 p.m.) and May 25 (11 a.m. To 1 p.m.); and at Bolen Books on June 3 for a book reading and Q&A at 7 p.m.

•••

Olive oil facts

Olive oil facts compiled by Julie Angus in her research:

• Olive oil was the original oil. It was highly valued, fought over and prized for a myriad of uses

• It was once worth its weight in silver, and cutting down an olive tree was punishable by death

• To the great civilizations of the Mediterranean olive oil was one of the most important commodities – used in everything from tanning hides to anointing the pious

• During war, it was thrown from castle walls to deep-fry attackers

• The Punic Wars were fought over olive oil trading routes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A decade into the 100-year blueprint for restoring the Bowker Creek watershed, Soren Henrich, director of the Friends of Bowker Creek Society, feels positive about the future of conservation and daylighting of the creek. (Nina Grossman/News Staff)
Ten years in, Greater Victoria’s 100-year Bowker Creek blueprint gets a boost

Victoria council passes several restoration recommendations

During a press event on March 6, Const. Alex Berube, media relations officer for the West Shore RCMP, addressed a deadly shooting that occurred in Metchosin the night before. (Devon Bidal/News Staff)
UPDATED: One man shot dead in ‘targeted incident’ on Sooke Road

Highway 14 reopens following multi-hour closure for investigation

A resurfacing of the tennis court in Metchosin is being eyed for the community. However, funding opportunities still need to be solidified for the project. (Michelle Cabana/Black Press Media)
Renewed surface eyed for Metchosin tennis court

Funding source must first be solidified in order for project to happen

Paragliders worked to capture a big enough gust to get them flying near Clover Point Saturday. (Jane Skrypnek/News Staff)
PHOTOS: Victoria residents dive in and take flight under sunny skies

Warm, sunny weather had people flocking outside Saturday

The James C Richardson Pipe Band marches in a Remembrance Day parade on Nov. 11, 2019 in Chilliwack. Wednesday, March 10 is International Bagpipe Day. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of March 7 to 13

International Bagpipe Day, Wash Your Nose Day and Kidney Day are all coming up this week

The Conservation Officers Service is warning aquarium users after invasive and potentially destructive mussels were found in moss balls from a pet store. (BC Conservation Officers Service/Facebook)
Aquarium users in B.C. warned after invasive mussels found at pet store

Conservation officers were told the mussels after found in a moss ball from a Terrace pet store.

Hockey hall-of-fame legend Wayne Gretzky, right, watches the casket of his father, Walter Gretzky, as it is carried from the church during a funeral service in Brantford, Ont., Saturday, March 6, 2021. HE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Walter Gretzky remembered as a man with a ‘heart of gold’ at funeral

The famous hockey father died Thursday at age 82 after battling Parkinson’s disease

Donald Alan Sweet was once an all star CFL kicker who played for the Montreal Alouettes and Montreal Concordes over a 13-year career. Photo courtesy of Mission RCMP.
Retired B.C. teacher and star CFL kicker charged for assault, sexual crimes against former students

Donald Sweet taught in Mission School District for 10 years, investigators seek further witnesses

(Black Press Media files)
Medicine gardens help Victoria’s Indigenous kids in care stay culturally connected

Traditional plants brought to the homes of Indigenous kids amid the COVID-19 pandemic

Personal protective equipment is seen in the COVID-19 intensive care unit at St. Paul’s hospital in downtown Vancouver. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
$16.9 million invested to improve worker safety, strengthen B.C.’s food supply chain

Money to be used for social distancing, personal protective equipment, cleaning, and air circulation

More than ever before, as pandemic conditions persist, the threat of data breaches and cyberattacks continues to grow, according to SFU professor Michael Parent. (Pixabay photo)
SFU expert unveils 5 ways the COVID-19 pandemic has forever changed cybersecurity

Recognizing these changes is the first in a series of steps to mitigate them once the pandemic ends, and before the next: Michael Parent

Kevin Haughton is the founder/technologist of Courtenay-based Clearflo Solutions. Scott Stanfield photo
Islander aims Clearflo clean drinking water system at Canada’s remote communities

Entrepreneur $300,000 mobile system can produce 50,000 litres of water in a day, via solar energy

Malawian police guard AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines after the shipment arrived in Lilongwe, Malawi, Friday March 5, 2021. Canada is expecting its first shipments of AstraZeneca vaccine next week. (Associated Press/Thoko Chikondi)
B.C.’s daily COVID-19 cases climb to 634 Friday, four more deaths

Currently 255 people in hospital, 66 in intensive care

Most Read