Public Relations Blog

The Olive Odyssey by Julie Angus



“A well-researched paean to the magical olive, a scrumptious romp through history, agronomy, DNA science, cuisine, business, medicine, religion, and politics.”
Mark Pendergrast, author of Uncommon Grounds: The History of Coffee and How It Transformed Our World

Like Odysseus in Homer’s classic, Julie Angus, her husband and baby set out by boat across the Mediterranean to discover the mystery, history, and culinary delights of the olive.   A molecular biologist and published author, Angus tells a fascinating story that dates back tens of thousands of years in her new book OLIVE ODYSSEY: Searching for the Secrets of the Fruit that Seduced the World (Greystone Books; May 2014; $25.95; Hardcover; ISBN: 978-1-55365-514-5; Dist. by PGW).

Angus was inspired to research and write OLIVE ODYSSEY by her Syrian forebears’ intimate relationship with the olive and her memories of the tastes and smells of home.  On a recent visit with her extended family in the Middle East, she was impressed with the feast set out before her “but one item stood above the rest, not for its complexity or the effort required to prepare it but for its simplicity and purity.  It was a food that I had eaten all my life but that had never evoked such a response….It was olive oil.”

In the book Angus shares some of the drama of a sea-faring adventure from chasing down a suitable boat to avoiding potentially deadly storms.  From town to town beginning in Spain, she describes her encounters with experts like local olive farmers; her searches for wild olive trees and how you can tell the difference between a cultivated species and the former; the different regional complexities of flavor in individual olive oils; the many uses for olive oil including medicinal ones; and the corruption that has historically plagued the oil industry from as early as the Middle Ages.

When they returned home, Angus was armed with video, photos, interview transcripts, and actual tree samples.  Her analysis provides evidence of where the original cultivated olive trees came from as well as how their existence can be traced back to the dawn of civilization.  In recent decades olive oil has received more attention in restaurants—where bowls of oil are presented for bread instead of butter; and in specialty stores—where different varieties of infused or imported oils can cost hundreds of dollars. But it is much more than a “condiment” and Angus trusts that it will live on for millennia to come.

Julie Angus is the author of Rowboat in a Hurricane: My Amazing Journey Across a Changing Ocean.  She is a recipient of the National Geographic Adventurer of the Year Award and holds a master’s degree in molecular biology from the University of Victoria.  She lives in Victoria, British Columbia.