This is a multipart series of posts to give you the confidence and know-how to cure yummy olives yourself at home. You’ll obviously need fresh olives in order to even get started, and for some people this will be the trickiest part! I know some greengrocers in Australia stock them, for example the Harris Farm stores in NSW, so keep your eyes open. However, if you have the good fortune to be in Tasmania during olive season, then get in touch with me and arrange to come and pick some of ours!
Olives are too bitter to eat straight off the tree, and must be cured in some way to make them palatable. Several methods are described, and include curing in water, brine, salt, and lye, but each has pros and cons. I’ve done some experiments myself, and lots of reading, and this series of posts aims to describe each method so you can pick the best one for you.
Part 1 of this series covers water-curing…
This method has ancient roots, and has been suggested as the reason behind why man realised way back that olives were edible. The basic principle is to keep the olives submerged in water for a period of time, and change that water once or twice daily to gradually leach out the bitter compound, oleuropein. Perhaps early man found some olives that had fallen into a stream, and discovered that they were now quite tasty!
If you’re using this method, each olive should be slit or cracked to expose the flesh to the water. Cracking them is undeniably a brilliant stress reliever (I bashed them with a rolling pin!), but both methods are pretty time consuming! As soon as the olives are cracked or slit they should be placed in a bowl of water, to reduce oxidation which causes a brown discolouration where the skin is broken. Some people suggest acidifying the water at this stage with lemon juice or vinegar, which did seem to reduce the discolouration in my experiments.
The olives need to be kept completely submerged, so can be placed in a large jar or bowl, covered with water, and then something like a plate or ramekin placed on top to weight them down. Some recipes suggest placing them in a net bag, and although I haven’t tried this, I think it’d make changing the water and rinsing the olives easier, and would probably help to keep them submerged. The container can be sealed with a lid if available, or just covered with a cloth or plate.
Most recipes say the olives can be kept at room temperature, but some authors describe a better result if they’re kept refrigerated.
If you have olives of markedly varying sizes, I’d recommend sorting them and for example having a jar for the larger set, and another for the smaller ones. The bigger ones will take a bit longer.
My most comedic suggestion for the least labour intensive way to change the water regularly (unless you have a handy stream or creek), is to place your olives in a net bag, and hang this inside your toilet cistern. Every time the toilet is flushed, your olives will be bathed in clean water! This probably wouldn’t get past health and safety on a commercial scale, but the water in the toilet cistern IS clean, so in principle it should be ok! It just sounds weird!!
After the olives are de-bittered they can then be placed in a brine solution with herbs and vinegar for storage, and to add some other flavours.
This method is generally used for green olives, but black olives can also be cured in this way.
– It’s easy.
– You don’t need any special ingredients to get started.
– It’s relatively quick, and you could have edible olives in as little as a month.
– The texture of the finished olive should be nice and firm.
– The olives need daily attention for at least 2-4 weeks. It’s a BIG commitment!!
– If you’ve got a large quantity it’s pretty tedious to prepare them.
– I’ve never actually produced olives I wanted to eat using this method, but I know it’s widely used! I’ve had problems with the olives turning brown and smelling a bit off after a few days, but I’ve only tried it using olives bought from a greengrocer, so I don’t know how fresh they were. Another possibility is that the weather was quite warm (I was living in Sydney at the time), and I hadn’t thought to put them in the fridge. I was only changing the water once daily, and perhaps changing it twice daily might have helped too.
So, following is a suggested recipe, amalgamating all the info I’ve come across on the topic. I’d love to know if you’ve tried curing olives this way, and if you’ve got any more tips!
Water-cured Olive Recipe
How to cure olives at home using the water-curing method.
- Green olives
- A lemon
- 10% Brine and red wine vinegar solution (100g salt and 1L of water, heat and stir until dissolved. Cool and add 150ml of red wine vinegar. Adjust volumes as needed.)
- Herbs – eg. black pepper, lemon rind, bay leaves, coriander, oregano.
- Fill a large bowl or jar with water and add some lemon slices or lemon juice.
- Slit or crack each olive and drop it immediately into the water.
- When the container is almost full place something on top of the olives to keep them submerged.
- Put the whole lot in the fridge.
- Change the water once or twice daily for a month, removing the lemon at the first change. You can start tasting after two weeks, to see if they are palatable. The olives will become a dull green to brown colour during this process.
- Once they are no longer bitter, place the olives in the 10% brine solution with red wine vinegar, and a selection of herbs to add whatever flavours you prefer.
- These are ready to eat in about another week, but can be stored in the refrigerator for up to a year.
The next post in the series will follow in a week or so. In the meantime, I’d love to know if you’ve tried curing your own olives, and what methods work for you. Do let me know in the comments!
And finally, if you’d like to know when we’ve set our “Pick your own olives” dates, so you can try this at home, then sign up to my mailing list. Click here to go to the form, and I’ll make sure you don’t miss out!