I have just returned from a brief stay in Palermo and the western coast of Sicily. Autumn at the heart of the Mediterranean can hardly be bettered. The grape harvests have been completed, the olives are soon to picked and the weather is usually absolutely splendid.
I first visited Sicily in 2005. This trip kept me on the island for a month. I hired a car and went wherever the trail took me. I was searching for stories for my books, The Olive Route and The Olive Tree. What I was intending was to discover and disclose the secrets roles the Mafia had played in the island’s olive oil history. For example, at the end of the nineteenth century and into the early twentieth century, due to exceeding poverty and mob rule, many Sicilians fled their homeland and set sail for America. A few of these immigrants were Mafia members on the run. Once these crooks arrived in the States, they established new Mafia organisations, and these proved to be fabulously remunerative, particularly during the years of Prohibition. These gangsters, Al Capone and his cronies or his gangland enemies, for example, needed a front for their nefarious dealings to keep the law off their backs. So they set up olive oil businesses for money-laundering purposes. The quality of olive oil in Sicily in the early twentieth century was very poor. The oil could be bought for next to nothing, which suited Mafia purposes perfectly. Shiploads of olive oil was exported to the States and sold as ‘Italian Olive Oil’. Who in the United States knew anything about olive oil? Once the oil was there, an international understanding that all olive oil was Italian was born. It is only in very recent decades that both American and other consumers have become aware of a far wider market range. For those who remember, in Mario Puzo’s novel, The Godfather, Don Vito Corleone as a young man started his own olive oil import business, Genco Pura olive oil.
Another little olive oil snippet, Puzo took the name of his leading character from the hilltop town of Corleone inland of Palermo. It was from here that…
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