Where It All Began: The Story of California Ripe Olives

If you’re like most Americans, munching on a California Ripe Olive – or just thinking about them for that matter – brings you back.

Digging in straight from the can or reaching for one at your grandmother’s holiday table, each shiny black ripe olive, so perfectly pitted, was a satisfying treat…and it still is. A lot may have changed since then, but California Ripe Olives have a way of working with the times. It’s all part of their colorful history.


The roots of the California Ripe Olive go way back. Wild olive (scientifically known as oleaster) once grew all over the Mediterranean, southeast Asia and other areas, but this unimpressive, straggly plant bore little resemblance to the graceful modern olive tree. That is, until about 5,000 years ago when it was first cultivated in Crete and Syria into the beauty as we now know it.


Once established, olive trees flourished in Spain, Tunisia, Morocco and other Mediterranean countries for thousands of years, featured in many of the regions culinary specialties. The Spaniards were the first to realize that this fabulous fruit could have international appeal and took the first cuttings to Peru in the mid-sixteenth century. From there, Franciscan Monks took olives to the New World and moved north through the missions of Mexico. At last, in 1769, the first olive cuttings were planted in California at the San Diego Mission. As most transplants do, they responded quite well to the California climate-sunny days, cool nights, fresh air-and they set their roots.


Surrounded by such a cooperative climate, Californian’s started planting acres upon acres of olive trees in response to the high demand for olive oil in the 1800s. Then the market became saturated (with monounsaturated oil ironically) and prices dropped. Farmers who had used all of their land for olive oil were doomed if they didn’t come up with a new plan. A resourceful German woman named Freda Ehmann and her son, Edwin, were part of this population. Who would’ve guessed that they would soon be the ones to figure out the solution? The Ehmann’s had trees that bore little fruit and selling pressed oil was not an option. After consulting with a Berkeley professor on processing methods, Freda began experimenting with 280 gallons of olives in barrels on her back porch. Thanks to her creative dreaming and stick-to-it-ness California Ripe Olives were created right then and there.


California Ripe Olives may not be prepared on the back porch anymore (in fact, we can assure you, they are always preserved in one of two state-of-the-art facilities), but they are made through the same exact process that Freda invented. This is what makes our olives taste decidedly American. Mild, versatile and meaty, they continue to add great flavor to everything from American country cooking to a melting pot of ethnic cuisines.