The olive tree is very nearly the gift that doesn’t stop giving.
We chomp down on her fruit on their own or in delightfully chilled martinis, or we pour its delectable oils onto salads through purpose-made olive oil spouts and fancy olive oil pourers. When the inevitable happens, as must befall all mortal creatures, even trees, we chop her up and carve up her carcass to create works of art from her beautiful wood.
Although indisputably gorgeous, this wood lacks the natural resistance to rot and insects of other woods and is also highly sensitive to temperature fluctuations. As a result, olive wood products require extra care and attention to help maintain their stunning looks.
Seasoning an all-new olive wood bowl
When you first buy an all-new olive wood bowl, you have to season it to start preserving its beauty. Instinctively you might reach for its companion lubricant, olive oil, thinking that olive oil and olive wood would go together like two olives and a dry martini, but you’d be wrong.
The trouble with seasoning your olive wood bowl with any vegetable oil is that these oils quickly go rancid, leaving anything served out of the bowl befouled with a subtle but nasty aftertaste.
To season the bowl, you’ll need soft, clean cloth and food-grade mineral oil. Dab the fabric with the mineral oil and vigorously polish the bowl inside and out until it glistens and the oil has worked its way deep into the wood.
When you’ve finished applying the first coat, leave the bowl somewhere clean and dry but not in direct sunlight. Wait until the bowl dries, which might take a day or two. (You’ll know the bowl is dry because it will no longer be sticky to the touch.)
Apply a second coat of mineral oil as vigorously as you did before, and again, wait for the coat to dry. You’re done when your olive bowl has lost its stickiness.
The dos and don’ts of looking after an olive wood bowl
Knowing how to care for olive wood bowls is the secret to keeping them in tip-top condition for years. Here are the main points of applying that care.
Don’t soak an olive wood bowl in water. Olive wood doesn’t “like” water, and in turn, water returns the favor and “hates” olive wood. Water raises the grain in olive wood, swelling the entire wet piece. However, the wood shrinks again when dry, causing it to split and crack all over, ruining the bowl’s good looks.
Do rinse your bowl with warm water after each use. If you must, clean the bowl with a mild detergent, but absolutely do not scrub with a harsh brush, as this will damage your bowl.
Do periodically repair your bowl’s seasoning. A good way of telling when the bowl will need re-seasoning is to take the guesswork out and instead use an objective measure, the amount of wear and tear on the bowl. A well-seasoned olive wood bowl should have beads of water when filled and emptied.
If this is the case, the wood’s oil is still cohesive and working as it should. If not, and the water simply pools at the bottom of the bowl, it’s time to refresh the seasoning.
Don’t air-dry your bowl. Whenever you rinse out your bowl, dry it with a towel. Letting water stand in the bowl to dry off will (a) leave residue on its surface, marking the bowl and dulling its sheen, and (b) let water seep into the wood and begin to wreak havoc, as explained earlier.
Refreshing an olive wood bowl’s seasoning
To repair and replenish your bowl’s seasoning, heat an oven to between 270°F and 280°F, then turn off the oven! Forgetting to turn off the stove is an excellent way to burn your bowl.
With the oven nicely hot and turned off, invert the bowl and place it in a pan lined with parchment paper or aluminum foil. Within a couple of hours, residue oil runs off the bowl and collects on the pan’s lining.
Remove the bowl, rinse it with warm water and dry it by wiping it thoroughly. Let it stand for another hour or two, then season it as if you were doing so for the first time.
How to care for olive wood bowls: a recap
The three most important pieces of advice are:
- Season bowls early, season them well, and keep them seasoned.
- Never soak olive wood bowls in water or leave water standing in them.
- Always dry your bowls with a towel.
Good luck, and enjoy your olive wood bowls.