‘Little bursts of intense flavour’ or ‘malevolent shiny skinned bullets’

Food Month Food Court: Lilly Higgins loves olives, but Aoife Ryan despises them

Olives – a good martini would be nothing without them

FOR: Lilly Higgins

Olives to me are little bursts of intense flavour. Salty nuggets of umami. They complete a traditional Greek salad. A pissaladière is nothing without some delicious little wrinkled black olives in between that anchovy lattice. I like my martinis dirty, sullied with olives and brine for a salty edge.

We’re lucky that The Real Olive stall is here in Cork farmers’ markets supplying shiny black kalamatas from Greece, small fresh bright green picholine from Provence and pungent garlic and thyme dressed olives, to name but a few.

Lilly Higgins has lots of uses for the versatile olive. Photograph: Aidan Crawley
Not even an attempt at entente cordiale could persuade Aoife Ryan to eat an olive. Photograph: Alan Betson

Olives also give us tapenade: blitzing olives with olive oil till it is in a smooth paste. Tapenade is very strong and perfect on bruschetta, stirred into mayonnaise to make olive aioli, thinned with oil for a salad dressing, spread on dough before baking, or for a quick and easy puttanesca sauce.


Olive oil is also a result of the delicious olive. It’s perfect for dipping crusty bread, to drizzle over ice-cream with a pinch of sea salt, or in place of butter to make a deliciously light cake.

Like most foods, there are some terrible quality olives out there, cheap and pumped full of brine, so before you decide olives aren’t for you, try a perfectly gorgeous oil slicked olive from a market or deli. They’re the perfect little aperitif and well worth stocking up on for the holiday season.

AGAINST: Aoife Ryan

Olives. Beloved by most, despised by me. Despite loving the grassiness of great olive oil, I just cannot seem to extend my adoration to the basic item. I’ve tried green olives, black olives, stuffed olives, tapenades, and each time, my tastebuds shudder and shriek in revulsion.

If I had a euro for everybody who has told me “you love food, so surely you have to love olives”, I could retire to a little taverna in Greece and make moussaka for the rest of my days.

Every time I walk past an olive stall in a market, I visibly shudder and almost race by those wooden tubs full of malevolent shiny skinned bullets, tasting of nothing but sourness and bitterness.

I dread restaurants with notions who think that serving olives as the only bar snack is mandatory, so I sit there starving, while pining for a simple bowl of salted peanuts.

I had to explain my aversion to the dreaded olives to our hosts who invited us for aperitifs on holiday in France this year, and watch their incredulous faces as they swiftly swapped the three bowls of lovingly curated olives from the local market for a bowl of little cheese crackers. Their disappointment was palpable, but I couldn’t force myself to eat even one for the sake of an entente cordiale.

My sister likes nothing more than to sit with a jar of olives at her side and pick them out like an aardvark chasing ants, sniggering at my discomfort and visible wincing.

However, her daughter shares my love of crunchy, vinegary cornichons and we will regularly fight over who gets the last one in the jar. In fact, her request for a present from France this year was “a huge jar of those little pickles”, so I bought her two.

Don’t get me wrong, I love savoury delicious nibbly things and my happy place is a bowl of capers, which pairs perfectly with an icy gin and tonic, but to paraphrase Cher, no matter how hard I try, I keep pushing olives aside, and they can’t break through.

Lilly Higgins is a food writer, blogger, photographer and chef. Aoife Ryan is a food, travel and home blogger (babaduck.com) and an airline food and drink buyer.