Monday, June 7, 2010

Home cured olives

Have you ever wandered through a market and come across an overflowing tray of green olives? Did you then wonder how you might prepare them? Until that moment, olive preparation was a mystery to me. They always came in a little bowl at a restaurant or out of a jar.

After some research, I bought a kilo of the glossy green fruits ready for curing. Green olives are the unripened fruit and black olives are the ripened versions that are allowed to stay on the tree that bit longer. Olives contain the bitter compound oleuropein. This gives raw olives an extremely bitter taste which is a bit like rubbing panadol tablets on your tongue bound in rubber bands. Hence, birds tend to leave the olives alone and seek other tastier stone fruits. In order to make them edible, the oleuropein must be leached out from the fruits.

This can be done a variety of ways. The original method would have been with just water. With successive changes of water, the oleuropein eventually dissolves into the water, making the fruit palatable. As human's appetite for olives grew, they devised more ingenious methods to speed up this process. Salting olives was used in the Middle East. The Romans would add wood ash to the water and olives. The natural lye from the ash removing the bitterness in a matter of days instead of weeks. As a result, most commercial olive production uses the lye method.

However, lye is caustic. No surprise they use it in drain cleaners. I didn't like the idea of having to wear gloves and eye protection to produce something I would soon eat. Therefore, I chose to cure with nothing more than water and a lot of patience.

Step 1:
Cut a slit on one half of the olive to the stone and immediately place them in a large container full of water, weighting them down so they stay submerged.
I wanted to preserve the texture of the olive as much as possible so did not bash it with a rolling pin as some recipes suggest. Initially, I did not even want to cut them thinking that this might affect the texture and 'crunch' of the olive. After 2 weeks, only one or two olives had started to develop a deep khaki hue, so I gave up and slit the whole bunch.

Step 2:
Change the water daily for the next 30 days - yes 30 days!
The leaching process starts off slow but after a few days, the pleasant, olive-scented waft intensifies as you tip out the water. The fruits will slowly change colour, all turning a deep khaki green. Throw away any olives that become mushy or have evidence of decomposition of the flesh.

Step 3:
Have a taste once all the olives have changed colour. If there is still a strong taste of bitterness, continue soaking until gone. The olives shouldn't taste like the ones you're used to. There still should be a hint of bitterness but you should mostly be getting a nice olive flavour which may seem a little watery since we haven't got around to brining them.

Step 4:
Brine the olives.
Prepare a brine solution of 10% (e.g. 100grams of salt to 1 litre of water) by sterilising some jars as well 'something' to keep the olives submerged (I placed little plastic sauce containers between the lid and olives ). Bring the water to the boil, add the salt and allow to boil for a few minutes. Leave the solution to cool completely. Add olives, the brine solution and your implement of olive submersion. Do not fill too full as the salt tends to creep out. Seal the lid and place in a cool dark place. I recommend the fridge. The jars I left in the pantry had a quite a few olives turn mushy and bad which lowered my yield.

Step 5:
Eat! Flavour with herbs (oregano, chilli, garlic etc.) or just eat them on their own. You can eat the olives as soon as a few days after brining but I find the flavour improves with age. Mine have been in the brine for about 2 months now and are tasting better by the week. The texture is nothing like commercially produced olives. It's a little like biting into a firm nectarine. There is a 'crunch' you just can't get commercially.

Hats off if you decide to try this. You will have to sign up for the long haul. God help our water supplies also. Water wastage can be minimised by using the old water in the garden. Happy brining!


  1. 30 days??? MSG I salute your patience and persistence, sounds like the payoff was worth it though! I've always been intrigued by the mounds of hard green olives in some stores but it may be more cost effective to buy from a good supplier!

  2. Actually yes and yes to the first two questions! :) And having tried a fresh olive off the tree I know that it's not particularly pleasant! :P Thanks for sharing the recipe!

  3. You brave soul! I think it would have disheartened me to have to throw out some partway through but I guess knowing what you now know that might not be necessary next time you do this - if you ever did it again! I don't think I could spare the space in the fridge! :D

  4. Wow this is great! I love love love olives!!

  5. Curing your own olives definitely take commitment! I lost about 20% of my original batch. It is worth it though. Knowing that no lye was used in the process plus the texture, makes up for the mega-liters of water used and a very cramped fridge! Give it a go!

  6. So much effort! Now I see why those old European men at the markets buy these by the crate load.

    Do I sense a lot of olive recipes in posts to come...?

  7. Have always wanted to brine my own olives. It is a lot of effort, but as you say, worth it in the end.

  8. This is something I have always had an inkling to do, but have never been brave enough. Thanks for sharing, they look great and I am definitely going to give it a go.

  9. At the easter show many years ago I tried some homemade brined olives. Oh my heavens! being an olive lover, those mouthfuls were enough to make me grin like an idiot. they were so good!

  10. I love olives! The first shot of the green ones looks particularly yummy :)