The Ascolana olive
Amongst the table olives the tender Ascolana olive, known as 'picena' in classical Latin, is probably the most prized. Juicy, tasty and easily digested, it is considered to be the best table olive in the world. The place where its peculiar properties are generated, due to the terrain and microclimate, is in the area around Ascoli (the Ascolano), although today, the productive zone is more extensive.
Previously, Pliny had praised its quality when preserved in brine, and Martial recommended it for the beginning and end of a meal. Other devotees were Pope Sisto V (1520-1590) of Marchian origin, for whom it was never to be missed, Garibaldi (1807-1882), Puccini (1858-1924) and Rossini (1792-1868) who also had it sent to Paris. It seems that, owing to an inherent natural selection process in the plant, of one hundred flowers, only one produces an olive. They are hand picked in order not to crush or damage the fruit. Production is about four-five thousand quintals.
Brine is used as the traditional method of preservation. After a brief period of fermentation, about ten days, the olives are put into jars with about seventy grams (two ounces) of salt for every litre (1 ¾ pints) of water and with the addition of wild fennel.
The origin of stuffing the olives is probably from the seventeen hundreds. It is a somewhat extravagant type of preparation and is, therefore, thought to be a culinary invention originating in the palaces of gentry rather than an effort to piece together a poor meal. The olives are stoned, stuffed with a mixture of fresh meat and then fried Ascolana style.
It is delicious, and expert cooks are able to achieve a balance in the mixture between the olives and the tender meat to give a slightly bitter taste.