It is finally, fully, fall in San Francisco. The days crisp and mostly clear, the wind sharper. This year, as usual, fall has been chaotic and crowded. We’re overwhelmed with projects and visitors and holiday plans. We can’t seem to get enough sleep or find time to nurture the writer selves that are an important part of us. Even our bird has learned a piercing new screech that is sending me to my wit’s end. And for once, I haven’t welcomed the switch to standard time. For days straight now, I’ve been knocked out cold before midnight, but I can’t seem to drag myself up in the morning, despite the “hour gained.”
We’re lucky here, to have dry farmed early girl tomatoes still in the farmers markets, but I have to admit, I’m pleased to see the new autumn bounty nudging out the abundance of summer crops. Two weeks ago, I bought some of the last fresh green olives at the farmers market, then last weekend harvested a heavy bag of ripe black olives from trees we discovered on a drive through Lake County. I pickled both in a salt brine and hid them at the back of the pantry to be leeched free of their bitterness.
Fresh olives carry a compound called oleuropein, which is responsible for their extreme, lingering, bitter flavor when uncured. The bitterness fades as they ripen, but black olives retain enough bitterness to need several months of curing. Oddly, these were some of the first foods humans cultivated, though they need long treatment to be edible. Olive cultivation began in both Crete and Syria independently as far back as 2,500 B.C.
Home Cured Black Olives
There’s very little to curing black olives. They can be soaked in a salt water brine until ready to eat, then rinsed and seasoned as desired. Many olive growers will not start selling ripe black olives until December, but in much of California, trees are abundant and laden with unused fruit. Make sure to pick olives that are still firm to the touch.
3-5 lbs ripe black olives
1 egg, washed well
1. To prepare the brine, add salt to water until the egg floats to the surface. Depending on the salt you use, this could take anywhere from 1 tablespoon per quart of water, to 2 tablespoons per cup. I used a natural sea salt and found that it took a little over a tablespoon per cup of water before the egg really floated.
2. Rinse olives gently and remove any soft or bruised fruit. Place them in a clean crock or large mason jar and cover with the brine. Use a small plate or other weight to make sure all of the olives are submerged. One trick is to fill a plastic bag with a little bit of water, tie it up, and use that as a weight.
3. Store olives in a cool place out of the sun, and stir once a week. After about 30 days, remove and taste an olive, but be aware that the curing process may take up to 90 days. Olives will continue to cure as long as they are in the brine. If they become too salty, drain and rinse them, then cover with a less salty solution. At that point, they should be stored in the refrigerator.