It has been “olive week” here at Burgeson Family Farm. We made olive oil, which was a 2 day process, and we have been finishing up some batches of home cured olives.
I am going ahead with the post even though I am not crazy about the photos. Starting a blog before you know anything about photography can get you into trouble and that is where I am right about now. Nevertheless, we are getting to the end of olive season here in California and if I do not post this now it will be a full year before olives are around again. So here we go…please excuse the photos…
Olives grow everywhere in California. I am not sure what the history is on that, maybe in the past more people made home-made olives, or maybe they were planted because they are such beautiful trees. But In the fall, olives become somewhat of a nuisance as the olives fall off the tree and litter the ground all over California. I have always loved olives, I remember putting the pitted California black olives on my fingertips when I was little and eating them off one by one. So when I would see olives on the ground in the fall, it always seemed like such a waste to me. But the methods required to turn those incredibly bitter fruits into something deliciously edible had always seemed foreign and unattainable to me.
We have been making our own olive oil with some friends now for about 10 years, and recently we planted our own little olive grove. I finally decided several years ago to give olive making a try using home-grown olives. I first tried a lye cure, which is fast and produces very mild green olives, and I have done that for the past few years. I have also tried a slow salt water soak, which took about 6 months to produce tasty black olives, and I have been using last year’s batch in my salads for the past 6 months. I was planning to make some olives using both of these methods this year when I ran into a bit of a problem.
California has a pest called the olive fruit fly, which will bore a hole into the fruit, leaving brown tunnels in its wake. These tunnels make cured olives unacceptable. There are organic ways to control these, but as I have mentioned, we are lazy and don’t tend to spray much of anything, organic or not. This year, when I went to pick olives, the majority of them had the tell-tale spots on the outside that are the hallmark of the fruit fly.
I had been reading about a method of curing the olives with only water, and decided to try a modification of that method to deal with my problem olives. We have now finished one batch and have started on the second and I am happy to report that this also is the easiest and fastest method for making olives ever. If you have access to an olive tree I urge you to get outside in the next few weeks, pick at least a quart or two of olives and give this a try.
We picked these Sevillano olives when they were still green. Sevillano olives are very large, so they are one of the preferred olives for preserving. You can pick them with a bit of color on them as well. If you have smaller olives, such as the Kalamata variety, this water method is a traditional way of preserving them.
Now sort through the olives and get rid of any that have obvious spots on them from the fly. Next, put the olives on a board. Here is one of the Sevillanos.
Now get a mallet or something heavy similar to a mallet and give the olive a smack. Don’t hit it so hard that you crush the pit or smash it to pieces.
My olives were relatively crisp and cracked fairly cleanly. If the olives are black and mushy this method is not going to work!
At his point the normal method is to leave in the pit and cure the olives in this manner. However, I needed to inspect the olives for fly damage in case I missed any. So I went ahead and broke the olives in half and got rid of the pit.
This is an olive with fly damage.
Only one side was damaged (the left, see the brown marks?). So I took out the pit, threw that side away, and saved the good half.
Once you have cracked all the olives (and removed the pits if you so choose), just put them in a jar and cover them with a lot of good fresh water. Make sure the jar is filled to the top, and put on a lid, so the olives are kept under the water as much as possible. You can even put a smaller plastic jar lid under your wider mouth jar lid if necessary to keep the olives under the water. When they are exposed to air they will turn a bit brown. I really did not care if mine turned a little bit brown so I just filled the jar all the way up and put on the lid.
Let them sit somewhere near a sink, because for the next 7 days or so you will be changing the water every day. All you do is drain off the water (I put a strainer over the mouth of the jar) and refill with water. After about 7 days, taste one of the olives. If they are no longer bitter, you are finished with this step. If they are still bitter, continue with this process until the bitterness is gone.
Now they are ready to be flavored. Olives are perishable, so at this point you need to either use them quickly or preserve them in a fairly strong brine. The recommended brine is made by putting 3/4 cup vinegar in a jar or large container, adding water to equal 1 quart total liquid, then adding 5 Tablespoons of salt. Mix it well to dissolve the salt. You can add dried garlic and/or chili flakes for seasoning. Cover the olives with this brine, and make sure you put a plastic lid or some such under the outer lid to hold the olives down in the brine. Then refrigerate them. I would use them within a few months. If the brine makes them too strong for you, you can soak them in water in the refrigerator for a day or two right before you use them, but then you should use them up right away.
Here are my olives before they were tucked away in the refrigerator:
They are very crisp, so if that is not to your liking, you can bake them for 30 minutes or so, then let them cool before eating. I just put them in the microwave for a minute or two and that softened them up nicely as well.
You also might try baking the unseasoned olives with lemon, salt, garlic, rosemary and olive oil in a covered dish when you take them out of the water bath, and then you can eat them right away. MMM, that sounds so good I may need to scrounge up so more olives to preserve so I can give it a try.
I got the original recipe idea from Penna olives. They have directions for making other types of olives, including lye curing, and they sell both uncured and cured olives.
© 2011. Dayna Green-Burgeson RD, CDE. All Rights Reserved.