How to Cure Olives: Our new house in Galveston has a small, and very old, olive tree near the back porch. I haven’t figured out the cultivar–my iPhone plant app says they are “African olives.”
When I noticed that these olives were starting to get ripe, I decided to pick them–and come up with a plan for how to use them. I went with a simple brine fermentation. So, now in the months that it takes to cure these olives, I will share my trials and errors and few thoughts about the ancient foodstuff.
We had a dinner party last week and I served Spanish arbequnia olives, olive oil-fried marcona almonds and sherry as the first course. We had our olives and sherry on the porch. It turned out that our guests were familiar with the tradition from their time in Spain–and they were delighted.
The sherry was La Guita, a manzanilla, and I served it chilled. Manzanilla is nearly the same as Fino sherry but produced around Sanlúcar de Barrameda, closer to the sea than Jerez. Marcona almonds are a Spanish variety of almond that are gaining in popularity recently–they are often served roasted or fried. The olives were tiny arbequina olives–their flavor is the model I am shooting for in my own olive curing.
For the last three weeks, I have been soaking the olives I picked from my tree in a brine solution, changing the water every day. (Okay, almost every day–I forgot a few times.) I tasted the olives every couple of days to see what was happening. The olives started out very bitter–like laundry soap. After the soaking, they got softer and less objectionable. Then I put them in another brine with vinegar for a longer malolactic fermentation. Three months is the suggested curing time, but every few days, the olives get a little tastier. I may take them out early.
When do cured olives start tasting good? That’s an interesting question–and entirely a matter of personal taste.
Years ago, the California olive industry concluded that Americans like their olives without any bitterness whatsoever. And so we got the American industrial black olive–picked green, chemically turned black and treated with lye until all of the native olive bitter flavors were gone. As American food lovers began to discover the wonderful flavors of Middle Eastern and European olives, they started to prefer olives with a little of that native bitterness left in. If you taste a lot of olives side by side, you can determine just how much “olive flavor” you prefer.
Green French picholines are treated with lye, then brined so they are pretty mild. Tiny green Spanish arbequina olives from the Catalon region are brined, but not treated with lye. They have lots of herbal flavors and some of that natural bitterness. That’s the flavor I am going for. Here’s a recipe I adapted from several sources:
Robb’s Olive Curing Recipe:
For: 2 cups raw olives
Soak olives in a 7 to 9% brine, change the water everyday for two weeks.
Transfer olives to a jar with lid.
Dissolve 4 tablespooons of salt in
2 cups of water and add
4 tablespoons of sherry vinegar
Pour the solution over the olives to cover.
Place a slice of onion in the top of the jar to keep the olives submerged. Then pour 4 tablespoons of olive oil on top as an oxygen barrier.
Soak 3 to 6 months, testing often.
(Replace the onion slice if it starts to get funky.)
Prepare for serving by placing the finished olives in a marinade of olive oil, garlic and herbs, etc.
You can add lemon peel, peppers, or other flavorings if you like.