HOW TO CURE OLIVES
Oi…love olives on my table
There are as many ways to cure olives as there are opinions of which is the right way. After trying many methods over the years, with varying degrees of success, I feel the best way is the simplest: basic brine. If you are feeling a time-poor, my advice is to keep it as easy as possible. Sadly, I don’t have a secret family recipe passed down the line but there are endless online resources which I have combined with information gathered locally, from hanging over fences, grilling lovely neighbours on their do’s and don’ts. It’s a word-of-mouth, tried and tested method. Find what works for you but you can borrow mine in the meantime.
What you need:
Fruit: Lovely unbruised, raw, unsprayed olives. Work with a manageable amount your first time otherwise the job might appear too onerous. I went huge the first time- it was like a mini-factory in my laundry and every single olive spoilt. Devastating and we gave up for a while but then started to try other methods and this one is my favourite.
Salt: any non-iodized rock or sea salt will do. I use the Saxa bags from the grocery store.
Jars: I like a large glass jar with a narrower neck. This keep the olives submerged in the brine. The jars and lids need to be sterilized properly. (Be prepared to lose a few jars and make mistakes. Botulism is real and rather err on the side of caution- I toss out entire batches when I find mould, slime, or dodgy looking olives. Frankly, I’d rather face disappointment than food poisoning.)
Water, a clean spoon, a raw egg, a paring knife, bowls, and dish towels to mop up.
Making the Brine:
Fill a large pot on the stove with water and gently heat. Do much more than you think you will need. It is not an exact science but generally 1/4 cup of salt to 1 litre of liquid. Stir until the salt dissolves. You’ll know if the brine is dense enough when a raw egg floats once submerged in the pot. Usually takes me a few goes. Add more salt until the egg floats. Just to be clear, the whole egg stays in its shell. Leave to cool.
How to prepare the olives:
This is the stage to be super-picky. Sort your olives into like piles. I like to put all the green ones together, the black ones in a different pile and the mixed colour ones in a third pile. Wash thoroughly and throw out any damaged, bruised olives, stalks or leaves. Be extremely fussy about the quality of fruit you use. After this you need to squish or crack the olive. Olives are bitter when you pick them straight from the tree as they are full of glucosides. Again, there are many methods but I like to cut two or three slashes into each fruit, making sure I don’t cut deep down to the pit. This way the brine can penetrate the skin and the olive will lose its bitterness.
The olives are now ready to pack tightly in the jars which you top up with the cooled brine. Fill the brine to the very top and seal as the olives do need to stay submerged. I usually change the brine every day for a week or so. I also turn the jars over a few times so the olives change position in the jar. When the jars stop fizzing, they get stored in the top of the pantry in a cool, dark spot.
How long does it take before you can eat them?
Well that’s the golden question for which I have no answer. Every batch takes a different amount of time, depending on the variety, size and how they’ve been cracked. If uncracked some of mine can take up to a year to cure. If cut, l take them down after a few months and start the taste test. Rinse the olive before you taste it as the brine is now extremely salty. Believe me, you will know when they are ready. Once they taste delicious, rinse them well. Marinate in sterilized jars in olive oil and herbs. I like to add garlic and thyme but there are many exciting ways to do this and finding the best combinations is part of the fun. Normally we just scarf them out the jar, congratulating ourselves on a good harvest and a job well done.