Cure your own Olives

As I mentioned last week, our trip to Palm Springs included some foraging:

Olives! The trees were all over the town, in front yards and in parks. In a huge public park two blocks from where we were staying, there were at least 20 giant olive trees, all with ripe fruit. The place we were housesitting had one tree out front, with most of the harvest already on the ground.

I did a little research and was delighted…did you know that olive trees can live to upwards of 4,000 years? That one particular tree is in Sardinia, Italy. It was just a wee sprout when Stonehenge (!) was being built. And it still produces olives. Fruit of the tree of immortality?

I used the brine cure method for ripe black olives. I read a ton of tutorials, and as usual, figured out the standard based on consensus. Then I came across this PDF, which is very clear and simple and trustworthy, given the source. You can print it out to have on hand. Let’s go!

You will need: Olives (black for this recipe, but you can use green in the other methods mentioned in the link.), water and salt. Plus, a couple big bowls and some jars with good lids.

STEP ONE: Get yer olives

If you don’t have access to a mature olive tree (it has to be at least 7 years old before it will produce), you can also buy them in bulk from a grower. In the fall, farmer’s markets around the Bay Area (like Alemany or Ferry Plaza) have fresh olives for sale. If you see a booth selling olives, just muster up yer muster and ask if they ever sell uncured ones.

I’m not sure why the olives are ripe in So Cal in the spring, typically they come ripe in December. Anyone have the tip on that?

Olives bruise easily, and while you can spread out a tarp underneath the tree and give it a good shake, I ended up ruining too many this way. I would enlist a friend and a ladder and pick by hand.

STEP TWO: Give em a good soak

Olives must be cured because they have a terribly bitter tasting substance in them called oleuropein. Besides brine, olives can also be cured by just water, with lye and with dry salt. I water cured my olives for two days before putting them in brine, to help rehydrate them and to assist in the leaching process. I put them in a bowl and covered them with water, changing the water out every 12 hours.

You can see how shriveled some of them are. Over half plumped up again with soaking.

STEP THREE: Sort it out and slice ’em up

After two days and four water changes, it was time to sort through and get ready for the brine. It’s very important to only use firm olives, at least 3/4 ripe. Unfortunately, I had to throw half of the olives out due to some internal fruit fly squigglies.

Pretty little babies.

As you are sorting through, take a sharp knife and give the good ones a vertical slice (being careful not to cut the pit, as this can release more oleuropein.). Slicing them allows the brine in. Other methods suggested puncturing with a toothpick, which is probably prettier.

STEP FOUR: Get Salty

Sterilize the jars you are going to cure the olives in by boiling them (plus the lids) for 10 minutes. While you are curing, you do not need jars that seal.

You can figure out your salt to water ratio for the brine by reading the PDF. I also read about a method involving a raw egg in shell. Keep adding salt to the water, and when the egg floats, you have brine.  I will mention that you must use PURE pickling or sea salt. If you don’t buy salt in bulk, read the label on the box…even “pure sea salt” will have additives to keep it from clumping, which will make the brine cloudy.

Put your little olive friends in your sterilized jar, fill with brine and pop on the lid.

My olives began fermenting right away, causing a lot of pressure in the jar and some brine leakage. I gently released the pressure and topped off the brine if necessary.

STEP FIVE: Change the brine.

After one week, drain out the brine and replace with fresh. I also rinsed my olives, which probably wasn’t necessary but I just wanted to. Your olives might look weird and pale. This is normal and they will regain color at the end of the brining process after being in the air.

From here on out, taste the olives once a month until they reach the flavor you desire. This will take two to three months.

After this time, you can soak them in water overnight to get out the excess salt, and then flavor with olive oil and herbs if you want. They must be refrigerated or canned to keep for any length of time. (Again, that PDF is boss, read it!).

We left one and a half jars for our friends, and brought one home.

And here’s my confession: Truth be told, I really don’t like brine olives. If we hadn’t been out of town, I would have water or dry salt cured them! I just really wanted to try my hand at it. Jeff loves all things over salty, so he will have to be my tester. Maybe I will love them because I made them myself?

Wait, is that one in the middle…smiling at me?

Next stop, one month!

 

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8 thoughts on “Cure your own Olives

  1. Wow, I loved this post. There is such an endless number of tasks that people have done for aeons that now seem like you need a huge industrial process to perform them. I’ve never before even dreamed of canning my own olives, being from the North Country and all, but now I do. I love olives in all forms and I bet they’re extra sweet, I mean salty after you’ve brined them yourself. Yum. I can’t wait to see how they turn out. Thanks for sharing this awesome adventure.

    1. yay, thank you! and i know…before just recently olives seemed like this weird, mysterious process that only someone in italy with a fancy machine and ancient secrets knew how to do. it goes to show how removed we are from our food. it seems obvious to me now that of course, foods that we have been eating for centuries must have a simple process.

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