When I was a little kid I never did well in sports. I could never keep up with all the other kids and always ended up winded and tired, while everyone else was still running and kicking balls around. It was generally decided that I was just a “weak” kid, so I learned to live with that label and gave up on sports. It wasn’t until my early teen years that we found out the real reason for my “weakness.”
I remember it was a night when my parents were out visiting some friends and my sister and I were home alone. This was a time when it was acceptable and safe to leave your young kids alone at home. I started coughing and the more I coughed, the harder it became for me to breathe, which made me cough even more, creating a vicious cycle that ended in my sister calling our parents and asking them to come home because I was having difficulty breathing.
To make a long story short, we soon found out I had asthma (though it wouldn’t be until a couple of decades later that I would learn on my own that there is such a thing as exercise-induced asthma, explaining my “weakness” in sports). My parents were told to take me to an allergist, so one day my dad and I visited one. I still remember his office, a dark room that smelled of stale cigarettes (remember, this was in the early 80s) and old leather. He opened a large wooden box with several vials in it and pricked my arms to test my sensitivity to allergens. His verdict? I was allergic to olive tree blossoms.
Now, keep in mind that I lived on a Mediterranean island. There were olive trees everywhere. There was even one outside my bedroom window, which my dad, in an attempt to help me, cut down completely. To this day, I don’t really believe that I have a specific allergy to olive blossoms. I do have seasonal allergies and I do have exercise-induced asthma. But olive blossoms specifically? Doubtful.
Fortunately, the allergist didn’t tell us that I was allergic to olives themselves because I would then have missed out on this olive and mint savory cake that my mom made regularly. It was a great snack or quick breakfast that my sister and I loved to eat. It features a divine trinity of flavors: olives, mint, and onions. The onions turn sweet and combine with the briny saltiness of the olives, only to be confronted with the aromatic mint, in a combination that is as salient in my childhood as peanut butter and jelly is to most kids in the U.S.
Eliopitta / Ελιοπιττα (Olive and Mint Cake)
Note: I like to make this cake in a bundt pan because that’s how my mom always made it but you can use two regular loaf pans instead. I’ve also made this into muffins that are great for a picnic or a party. If you make muffins, adjust the cooking time down.
1 12 oz can of evaporated milk (unsweetened)
1/3 cup olive oil (plus some more to grease pan)
2/3 cup vegetable oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 cup of pitted, black olives, coarsely chopped
3 tablespoons chopped, fresh mint or 2 tablespoons of dried mint
3 cups (375 gr) all-purpose flour (plus some more for plan)
3 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
Preheat oven to 350°.
Use a little olive oil to grease either one bundt cake pan or two 9×5 inch loaf pans. Sprinkle with flour and shake out excess. Set pan(s) aside.
In the bowl of a mixer beat eggs well for a few minutes until they have expanded in volume and they are pale yellow and creamy. Add the evaporated milk and the oils and beat until combined.
In a medium bowl whisk together flour and baking powder. Add the flour mixture to liquids. Mix with a spatula until just combined. Do not overmix. Fold in olives, onions, and mint. Pour batter into prepared pan(s) and bake for about 50-60 minutes, until a knife inserted in the middle comes out clean.
Let cool in the pan for 10 minutes and then invert onto rack to cool completely.