Was there a time British people couldn't buy olive oil?

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The UK could be facing higher olive oil prices after a summer of droughts in Spain. But a popular notion is that there was once a time when olive oil was only available to buy at a pharmacy. How true is it, asks Tom Heyden.

Cookery writer Elizabeth David is credited with introducing a culinary revolution in the UK, publishing A Book of Mediterranean Food in 1950. She famously told readers that olive oil – vital for many recipes – could be found in chemists where it was sold as a treatment for ear ailments, among other things.

Today, multiple varieties of olive oil are available in every supermarket, but was it really such an exotic ingredient 60 years ago? Judy Ridgway, now an olive oil expert, wasn’t aware of it during her middle-class Manchester upbringing. “We didn’t come across olive oil at all except from the chemist,” she says. And they never cooked with it. “My mother used to rub it into her hair before she had it permed.”

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