When I planted my two olive trees seven years ago, I thought that I’d probably end up with about two or three kilograms in total. This year I’ve picked just under eight kilograms of the little black beauties, and now I have to cure them.
A few millennia or so ago Alessandro was wandering along the foreshore of the Mediterranean, either dreaming of being an Olympian or opening a decent takeaway, when he stumbled across a barrel of olives. This barrel had been in the ocean for months, no doubt washed off the deck of one of the Triremes and left bobbing in the brine.
Alessandro cracked open the barrel, and no doubt tentatively, brought one to his lips. Familiar with the bitter, astringent flavour of the olive, Alessandro was probably expecting the worse, but the salt had transform this bitter fruit into something to savour. The age of salt curing olives had begun.
Not much has really changed in the world of olive curing, except for maybe the industrialisation of it and the use of Drano like substances to hasten the process. If you’re all about doing things the old fashioned way and like a nice salty olive that can only be washed down with beer or ouzo, here’s how to cure olives.
First thing that you don’t do is wash them. You need the yeast on them to help with the fermentation later on. Just grab a really sharp knife, cut a slit in each olive and plunge them into some fresh water. Then every day for the next month, sometimes twice a day, change the water.
One month later if you taste an olive, it will still be awful. Not as awful as straight off the tree, but still awful.
Now you measure out how much water you need to cover your olives and for every litre of water, dissolve a 1/4 of cup of salt and then add 1/2 cup of white vinegar. Pour that over the olives and use a plate or something to weigh them down.
Now lightly cover your container and put it away for a week in a cool dark place. Once the week is up, redo the whole brining procedure.It’s likely that your olives will develop a frothy film over the top, that’s normal. That’s the yeast mentioned above at work with the salt and vinegar, breaking down the bitter oleuropein.
This goes on for one month, and then you taste one. Chances are it should be okay by now, but if they’re not to your liking, go again for another week until you’re happy.
Once they’re good, pack them into some smaller bottles, add your choice of herbs and spices with the same brining mix, this time made with good quality salt, top up with some olive oil and pack them away.