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Every Tuesday at 7:42 a.m. and 5:18 p.m., Tom Harte shares a few thoughts on food and shares recipes. A founder of “My Daddy’s Cheesecake,” a bakery/café in Cape Girardeau, a food columnist for The Southeast Missourian, and a cookbook author, he also blends his passion for food with his passion for classical music in his daily program, The Caffe Concerto.

A Harte Appetite: Texas Olive Oil

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Though it was not part of the last Olympics, olive oil wrestling is the national sport of Turkey, where an annual tournament has been held since 1346, making it the oldest continuously running, sanctioned sporting competition in the world.

Following Greco-Roman traditions, contestants slather themselves in olive oil and try to come to grips with one another, a process which, before time limits were instituted, could go on for days.

Now if your interest in olive oil involves giving an opponent the slip, it doesn’t make any difference how it tastes, if it’s pure, or even whether it’s rancid. But if, like me, your interest is culinary rather than athletic, you want the very best oil you can find. That’s why I recently headed down to the Hill Country of Texas.

You might find it surprising that I would expect to find high quality olive oil in Texas, the land of barbecue, chili, and pecan pie, but it turns out they’re experiencing something of an oil boom in the Lone Star State—an olive oil boom.

For example, at the Bella Vista Ranch in Wimberley, the first stop on my sojourn, I tasted owner Jack Dougherty’s fresh pressed extra-virgin olive oil. Defying conventional agronomical wisdom that olive trees wouldn’t grow in Texas, Dougherty has shown otherwise and won a gold medal along the way. I can see why. I’ve never tasted better olive oil than his.

Happily for consumers, others have gotten into the act too. Not far from Bella Vista, in the town of Dripping Springs, for example, is The Texas Hill Country Olive Company, a beautiful Tuscan-style facility dispensing among other things in addition to award-winning olive oils, olive oil ice cream.

Clearly, down in Texas the pursuit of liquid gold may soon rival the quest for black gold.

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Texas Olive Oil Cake

Olive oil makes a cake exceptionally moist, but it also imparts flavor, so don’t opt for a mild oil. Instead use a strong one, but make sure it’s of the highest quality. This recipe is adapted from Maialino Restaurant of New York.

2 cups flour
1 and ¾ cups sugar
1 and ½ teaspoons salt
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon baking powder
1 and 1/3 cups Texas olive oil
1 and ¼ cups milk
3 eggs
1 and ½ tablespoons grated orange zest
¼ cup orange juice
¼ cup orange liqueur

Whisk together flour, sugar, salt, baking soda and baking powder. Combine olive oil, milk, eggs, zest, juice, and liqueur. Add dry ingredients and stir until just combined. Pour batter into a deep 9-inch pan which has been greased and the bottom lined with parchment paper. Bake at 350 degrees for one hour or until top is golden and cake tests clean. Cool 30 minutes before removing from pan. Cool completely before serving.

Tom Harte is a retired faculty member from Southeast Missouri State University where he was an award-winning teacher, a nationally recognized debate coach, and chair of the department of Speech Communication and Theatre.
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