Beef Olives

The British term for wrapping meat around a stuffing, browning it and finishing it in a brown sauce is called an “olive,” although there are no olives in it. Perhaps the word referred to the final “olive-like” shape the meat took when it was tied up and cooked. Beef, veal and even fish olives have been part of the British cuisine since the 16th century.

18th Century

Cut slices of a fat rump of beef six inches long and half an inch thick, beat them well with a pestle, make a forcemeat of bread crumbs, fat bacon chopped, parsley, a little onion, some shred suet, pounded mace, pepper and salt; mix it up with the yelks of eggs, and spread a thin layer over each slice of beef, roll it up tight and secure the rolls with skewers, set them before the fire, and turn them till they are a nice brown, have ready a pint of good gravy thickened with brown flour and a spoonful of butter, a gill of red wine with two spoonsful of mushroom catsup, lay the rolls in it and stew them till tender: garnish with forcemeat balls.

Randolph, Mary. “Virginia House-Wife”

21st Century

  • 6 lb. rump roast
  • 2 cups bread crumbs
  • 2 slices of bacon, minced
  • 2 Tbsp. fresh parsley, minced
  • 1 medium onion, minced
  • 2 oz. beef suet, shredded
  • ½ tsp. mace
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 10 wooden skewers
  • 1 cup of lard
  • 1 pint beef broth
  • 2 oz. flour
  • 2 oz. butter
  • 1 pint red wine
  • 1 cup mushroom catsup or Worcestershire Sauce
  1. Cut meat into slices about 6 inches long and ½ inch thick. Beat them flat with a metal meat mallet.
  2. Make a forcemeat by combining the bread crumbs, bacon, parsley, onion, suet, mace, salt and pepper. Add in the two egg yolks to make a thick sausage-like paste that holds together.
  3. Lay the meat on a flat surface. Spread ¼ to ½ cup of the mixture on each slice of meat. Starting at one end, roll each piece of meat into a tight cylinder, securing the roll with wooden skewers. Try not to squeeze the forcemeat out the ends.
  4. Roll the remaining forcemeat into ½ inch to 1 inch balls and set aside.
  5. Heat the lard to 350 degrees and brown each piece of meat on all sides. When nicely colored, set them to drain on a drying rack until all the meat is done.
  6. Press the flour and butter together with your hands until it forms one mass.
  7. Using a straight sided sauté pan, add the beef broth, wine and Worcestershire Sauce and bring it to a simmer. Add in the butter/flour mixture and cook until it begins to thicken.
  8. Add in the beef rolls into the pan, cover and simmer on low heat for 30-40 minutes until tender.
  9. Fry the remaining forcemeat balls as a garnish.

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12 Responses to “Beef Olives”

  1. March 22nd, 2012

    Christine Hansley says:

    Hi Frank and Foodways Crew,
    This sounds good. I do have a few questions.
    1. Bacon – cooked or uncooked?
    2. Beef suet – I’ve never seen it sold at my grocery store?
    3. Salt and Pepper – how much? Everything else is measured but not this. To taste does not seem appropriate?
    4. Lard – Lard or Crisco? Which is better? I can get lard at the grocery store.
    5. Beef Broth – unsalted or salted?
    6. Red Wine – dry, sweet?? What did you use? Cab., Zin, or something else?
    7. Mushroom catsup – the catsup available through CWF Marketplace or will tomato catsup work? I’ve never seen Mushroom catsup at the store.
    8. I am assuming we need to wisk the butter/flour mass once we put it into the liquid? Or do we do something else?
    9. Thickens – about how long or how reduced should we cook the broth before we put the rolls in the pot?

    Sorry for so many questions. This recipe has me baffled. It’s been a long very warm for the season week.

    It has been in the 80s all week in Chicago. That is about 30 to 40 degrees above normal. I think several of the days we had higher temps than Williamsburg. All of our flowering trees and daffodils are in bloom. Way too early by about 4 weeks.

    Have a great Spring.

    • March 26th, 2012

      Historic Foodways says:

      Hi Chris,

      I think you may want to watch the video again and that may take some of the mystery out of it.

      Lets see, the bacon is cooked and crumbled to go into the stuffing. Some stores may not carry beef suet, it is just leaf fat from the belly cavity. For health reasons, I usually leave it out since we don’t need to add fat to our food any longer.

      I hate to say it, but: salt and pepper to taste. You basically just want to get a little flavor into the meat before cooking. You may fry them in any shortening that you may like. I think lard tastes the best, but it is not the best for you, so I generally don’t use it at home.

      The broth can be either salted or unsalted, but balance the salt and pepper you use on the meat accordingly. As for the wine, we use the cheapest possible box wine because we rarely eat this food, so why waste good wine? I would go with a dryer red like a cab or merlot. The best substitute for the mushroom catsup is probably Worcester sauce. I would not use tomato because of the high amount of sugar in it.

      When it comes to the thickening, add the flour and whisk well so there are no lumps. It usually takes five or so minutes to get the liquid back up to a boil and to begin to thicken, then you can add in the rolls. I wouldn’t cook them for too long in the sauce since they were already fried. Another five to ten should do it.

      I hope that helps and that you enjoy your early spring.


  2. March 23rd, 2012

    D. Smith says:

    I would not use Crisco since it is a totally hydrogenated product. I would definitely use lard, but again, not the kind from the grocery store as it, too, is fully hydrogenated. Ewwww.

    Make (render) your own lard. It’s not a bit difficult. It takes some time and that’s about it. Ask your local butcher shop for leaf lard and in about 2-3 hours you’ve got lard for pie crusts, homemade french fries, popcorn – any number of things. Lard is very misunderstood. You can learn more at (I think that’s the right name, but if you just type lard into your search box you’ll find some information). Just don’t believe the hype about it being bad for you.

    If nothing else, Spectrum makes a non-hydrogenated “shortening” available in most health food stores or the section of your local grocery selling “health foods” (another misleading venture by mainstream grocery stores and even places like Whole Foods, but that’s another topic entirely).

  3. March 29th, 2012

    Marlan says:

    This looks very similar to German Rouladen. One difference I picked up right off is that the balls are boiled first in Rouladen and then baked in the gravy in a dutch oven, although I am not sure of the temp. It seems to be a little healthier to do it that way as well and drop the frying altogether. I might give that a shot as well!

    • April 5th, 2012

      Historic Foodways says:

      I had to look that one up in our friend Chef Walter Staib’s cookbook “Black Forest Cuisine.” He has a recipe called Rinder roulades. His stuffing was mustard, a pickle and bacon. Sounds interesting. It certainly looks very similar and I guess the primary difference would be in the baking with demi-glace. I also agree that this might be healthier then frying them if you like, although demi-glace is not exactly health food. You could knock it back to beef stock with a bit of thickener in it I suppose.
      Es smeckt gut!

      -Frank Clark

  4. September 26th, 2012

    melanie chesnel says:

    the origin of the name is from the French for lark “alouette”. In medieval recipe books mock larks were made using cheaper beef which were called boeuf alouette, which got transformed to olive by non french speaking english cooks who nolonger knew the raison d’être for the recipe.
    from an “ordanace of pottage” a reprint of a 15th century manuscript – Alosed beef
    take lyr of beef; cut hit in lechys.Lay hem abrode on a bord. Take the fatte of motyn or of beef, herbys & onions hewyn smal togedyr, and strew hit on the leches of beef with poudyr of pepyr & a lytyl salt, & rol hit up theryn.Put hem on a broch;rost hem.

    the recipe goes on to say they could be stewed in a spicy broth as an alternative

  5. October 5th, 2012

    I’ve written about Sicily’s beef roll, the farsumagru, as well as alows de beef here:

    It’s also very interesting that the “alows” are supposed to be “false” stuffed songbirds. There was a huge tradition of songbird eating as part of noble feasts in the Middle Ages, which I write about a little here, in connection with Sicily’s “sarde a beccafico” and the 13th century “inside out stuffed sardines or anchovies” from the Liber de coquina.

    • October 6th, 2012

      melanie chesnel says:

      Read your stuff and it is all very interesting – as you say nobles ate more or less the same food across Europe in the Middle ages. From my reading up on the subject I get the impression beef mock larks were used in banquettes when there were not enough larks for everyone. So the king and his favoured guests got a lark, and those “below the salt” got the beef substitute.

  6. December 15th, 2012

    Robin Orcurr says:

    I am reading the new Cromwell book and there is a reference to preparing Beef Olives. I want to make a “Cromwell” Christmas dinner. Any thoughts on vegetable dishes to go with this. I was thinking maybe roasted parsnips and turnips. Almond cream pastry for dessert. Maybe hard cider!

  7. October 9th, 2015

    Todd Fleming says:

    Hi, I have an important question about sanitation. I love how you use the table as a prep surface for everything and would like to implement that in my home. But while you mainly cut the meat on a separate board, it does touch the table while raw here when she pounds it and of course eggs spill and etc. How do you sanitize your surfaces for today’s modern health requirements, and how would they (or would they) have historically?

    I’ve read about salt brine washing cutting boards and butcher’s blocks which supposedly makes a “pro-bacterial” surface. Is this practiced at Williamsburg for the meat boards? Also, what sort of wood is your table made of? Some are slightly antibacterial, like walnut.

    I think a great idea for an article or video would be on historic methods of preparation and clean up. I love how the surfaces are like a workshop and not meant for presentation as today’s counters are.

    • October 12th, 2015

      Historic Foodways says:

      Thanks for your question, I should point out that we DO NOT meet modern heath codes and therefore are forbidden from serving food to the public. We do sometimes taste test some things we cook and try our best to clean with soap and water and we do put bleach in our rinse water. The 18th century cook does not have an understanding of sterile as we do today. They do not yet have a germ theory. They talk about the importance of keeping your kitchen clean, and try to do most of the gutting and messy tasks in a separate scullery area. I think the table in the kitchen is pine but I am not sure; most of the cutting boards are oak or maple. In most cases cleaning was done with very hot water and sometimes abrasives like brick dust of sand were used for scouring out pots and pans. They also sometimes dried the chine dishes in a plate rack in front of the fire, which might well sterilize them but this was done to dry them not to sterilize them. I think one of the big advantages they had was the fact that their food was very fresh — often picked that morning — and frequently some smaller animals like fish and fowl were purchased live, brought home, and cooked immediately.

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