(from the California
The Olive in California: History of An Immigrant Tree
By Judith M. Taylor, M.D.
Ten Speed Press, Berkeley, CA, 2000,
316 pages, hardcover, $32.50, ISBN 1-58008-131-2
Reviewed by Carllene
Freelance Writer and Genealogist
It has been said that the
best way to learn about a subject is to write a book about it and this is
exactly what the author of this delightful and carefully researched book has
Dr. Taylor, a board-certified neurologist, was born in London and educated
in Oxford. She practiced and taught medicine in New York for many years.
Changing careers in the mid-1980s, she became a medical director for two
large insurance companies. In 1994, Dr. Taylor and her husband retired to
the San Francisco Bay Area where she promptly fell in love with the
California landscape and more specifically, olive trees.
In an effort to broaden her knowledge of olive trees, she was surprised to
learn that most research and books concerned Old World olives but nothing of
consequence could be found regarding California olives. In the process of
seeking answers to her many questions about the trees themselves, the idea
of this book took shape. Indeed, here was a gap that needed to be filled.
Thus began an intoxicating adventure as she traveled up and down the state
to see for herself how olives are grown and processed. During the next few
years she met with an untold number of persons in the olive industry as well
as specialists in olive culture and history. From this research and gleaning
of information she has compiled a noteworthy book on the history of the
olive in California and how it helped to shape the destiny and fortunes of
our state. Her enthusiasm for the subject and attention to detail are
reflected throughout this very fine book.
Through the book's Foreword, Dr. Kevin Starr, State Librarian, skillfully
introduces the reader to the unbreakable connection of the olive tree and
California's colorful history and economics.
Taylor's writing style is light and easy to read. The Introduction aptly
titled "The Olive in Ancient Times" provides an interesting and informative
background on the olive and its place in the early civilizations of man.
The following ten chapters tell the story: How the Olive Came to California;
Development of a Market and an Industry; Transition to the Modern Era; Why
Olive Growers Changed to New Kinds of Trees; Nurseries and the Dissemination
of Olive Trees; The Olive Oil Trade; Olive Processing Companies; Botulism;
The California Olive Association; and The University of California's Role in
the Development of the Olive Industry.
Six appendices offer: chronology of the olive in California; olive oil
makers in California (1869-1996); olive processing companies (1895-present);
olive cultivars imported into California (1870-1960); synonyms of some olive
cultivars; and sources of olive trees: Early California Nurseries
Dr. Taylor cites her sources with a lengthy bibliography, image credits and
acknowledgments. The book also contains many photos, sketches, diagrams and
I found this book to be an excellent source of information on the olive and
the olive industry in California, past and present. If you've ever wondered
how that bottle of olive oil or those tasty table olives came to be, this
book is a must read.