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January 2011
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February 2011

Home Cured Olives Update

It's been about three weeks since we first picked our olives for curing. Here's an update on the three methods we've used for curing the olives.

Water Curing

This will turn out to be the fastest curing method. I had to change the water used for curing the olives every day. It took about 20 days to rid the olives of their bitter (think mouth-puckering) taste. So the next step was to prepare a salt water and vinegar brine, pour it over the olives, and top with some olive oil. Since I had a lot of olives, I put the olives in two containers and added some herbs (peppercorns, bay leaves and garlic) to one of the brine solutions. Now the olives will steep in the brine for up to a month to develop their flavor. Adding the garlic to one of the brines meant that I have to store that one in the fridge, to prevent unhealthy stuff from "cooking" in the brine. The other container is sitting in our shed, where the temperature is about the same as a wine cave.

Brine Curing

The brine curing has been the easiest method, but takes the longest time. After soaking in a salt water brine for a week, I transferred the olives to individual canning jars and brined them with a higher strength solution. The jars are now sitting in the same shed. I'll change the brine once a month for the next few (up to six) months, until the olives lose their bitter taste.

Salt Curing

The olives have been sitting in a plastic colander covered with kosher salt for a couple of weeks now. Once a week I put the olives in a bowl, re-mix them, and return them to the colander. Then I cover the olives with a new layer of kosher salt. You can tell that the salt is leaching out the moisture from the olives—the salt feels wet and the olives are starting to develop wrinkles. These guys have a few weeks of curing left and then they'll be ready for storing in brine or olive oil.

I'll check in again when we get to the tasting part… with any luck we'll have plenty of olives for those summer evenings on the deck with a glass of white wine, some cheese and a crust of French bread!

Our Weekend Culinary Adventure—Curing Olives

Jan2011 025 comp I am beginning to wonder if my life is going to be defined by the things I used to find disgusting. First, there were tomatoes. To be fair, I didn't find them disgusting, I just had no interest in eating them. (There was that unfortunate incident in second grade, when I had to eat two tomato sandwiches before Mrs. Robbins—an actual, retired WAC—would let me go play at lunchtime, but that's another story.) Fast forward a number of years, and I'm growing tomatoes for friends and neighbors.

Then there were figs. We had two fig trees in LA, and left them in place when we put in a brick patio in the back yard. From that point on, I only thought of figs as those things that went splat on the brick patio. I could either clean them up right away, or deal with the ants that would find them within hours. Fast forward a like number of years, and I'm grilling figs with prosciutto on the barbecue. Go figure.

And now we turn to olives. I grew up thinking olives in their natural state were poisonous (not true) and at any rate cursed them as they dropped onto the lawn in front of our condo, making a mess of things.

So now, having become interested in canning and preserving, I took note of the olive trees on our property. Our landlord had no plans for the olives (he put the trees in for decorative purposes) and gave us the OK to pick them. So Crystal and I went out before the rains showed up and picked olives for curing.

Jan2011 024 comp

It turns out that the "poisonous" notion surrounding olives (at least for me) has to do with the way they're normally cured. Commercially, olives are cured with lye. UC literature on home curing tells you how to do this without killing yourself, but I went the "don't try this at home" route and opted for the non-lye methods of olive curing. They take longer, but don't have the potential side effects that curing with lye can have.

Having picked a surprisingly large amount of olives, we moved on to the curing process. There are three main methods:

  • Water curing. You soak the olives in water, change it every day for about 10 days, and you're done. The main drawback to this method is the need to slice into the olives in order to allow the water to penetrate. Since we were working with small olives (Picholine, as far as we can tell), this took a lot of time. Fortunately, it was the perfect activity to take on while watching multiple shows on The Food Network.
  • Salt curing. This was the method I was most looking forward to. You pack the olives in salt, and let it draw out the oleuropein that gives uncured olives their (trust me on this, I tried one) incredible bitterness. These olives should be ready in about 6 weeks.
  • Brine curing. This method uses a brine of salt and water to cure the olives. It's the easiest method to do (change the brine once a month) but takes 4-6 months to complete.

Jan2011 028 comp

As it turned out, we had plenty of olives and so we've cured olives using each of these methods. The brine-cured olives are on the far left in this photo, the water-cured are in the middle and the salt-cured are on the right.

We'll let you know how they turn out; if they're good you can count on eating some during aperitif this summer!

Jan2011 028 comp Here you can see the brine-cured olives on the far left, the water-cured olives in the middle and the salt-cured olives on the right.