I love olives and as a kid, I loved putting California olives on each finger and eating them off one by one. It would amuse me for minutes!
If you’ve ever lived anywhere that has a Mediterranean climate, chances are you’ve seen an olive tree or two. Olive trees can actually grow in tropical climates but they do not fruit (which is why I never saw them until I was an adult). When I worked in the Napa Valley, nearly everyday during olive season, someone from one of my tours would try to pick an olive from the trees along the tour path and eat them raw! And why not?! It’s NOT common knowledge for people who didn’t grow up with olives to know that olives are not edible off the tree. The intense bitterness comes from a chemical compound called oleuropein. As far as most Americans know, those black ripe Mission olives on the trees around the winery looked just like those California black olives that come in a can. (By the way, “California olives” have their own production method to create a uniform product). So olive warnings became part of my repertoire for my tour along with basic viticulture & oenology – it would go something like this: “Now before we go into our cellar, take a look at the gorgeous view of the Oakville valley floor. Also, do you notice the olive trees? Please, please do not eat the olives off the trees as they are very bitter and you will be miserable, I promise.”
Here in South Australia, our climate along the coastline is Mediterranean with hot, dry summers and moderate winters and olive trees absolutely thrive here (sadly it is thriving too well and is a weed that displaces native vegetation in many parts of SA). It is not unusual to be driving down dirt roads in the countryside and see trees in autumn heavy with fruit. One day about a month ago, we were driving back from the beach when I saw olive trees filled with fruit that would have probably gone to waste so I pulled over and we started to get our plastic bags out from the car and started to pick. We ended up picking four different kinds of olives, one variety I know is the tiny Koroneiki olives but the other three are a complete mystery. We thought that one of the dark, ripe black variety might be Kalamata but we were wrong because we later found a real Kalamata tree and saw that the fruit has slightly pointy ends which none of our olives have.
I have cured olives a few times before and each time, I used a different method or recipe. Every other time I did it, I didn’t take it as seriously and thus, they didn’t turn out too well or they moulded very quickly. I decided that this year was going to be different and that I was going to be vigilant about changing the water daily and brining them properly. Although I have a few books that instruct on how to cure olives, I decided to use a method from Vasili’s Garden’s website. Taking care of olives is almost like taking care of a pet! We actually asked our neighbours to babysit our three buckets of olives by changing the water daily when we went away for our anniversary! Although Vasili’s recipe doesn’t mention slitting each olive with a knife, I decided to do it so that the bitterness can leech out faster. Do the slitting in front of a TV and get someone to help you do it because let me tell you, it is a mundane job. Salt curing (dry) is another way to leech the bitterness out of olives – they take on an interesting wrinkly character and have a much more concentrated flavour than the water/brine cured olives.
Cramming as many olives as I can in jars!
Ran out of jars, I guess I’ll try plastic!
Currently, the olives are in jars (and one large Ziplock bag because I ran out of jars) and sitting in our second (drinks) fridge and I’ll be checking on them once a week to see if the bitterness is gone yet. Once they are ready, I think I will experiment and flavour some of them with thyme, rosemary, garlic, chillies or preserved lemons…whatever I fancy that day.
Do you cure olives? What do you flavour them with?