Fall Olive Curing

Green Olives

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.

Black Olives

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
sea salt
water
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.

Olive Jars

17 Responses to “Fall Olive Curing”

  1. Rose- Those olives look delicious! Is the recipe for the green olives a lot more complicated, or are you just saving that for later?

  2. I am a PROFESSIONAL CHEF and my time is much too valuable to make olives when I can buy them at the store.

    As a graduate of Peter Kumps culinary school in my hometown of Brooklyn (where NO ONE would ever think of curing olives) I was not impressed with this particular post.

    However, I will check back later to see if your posting has improved.

    By the way I now live in Clearwater, florida (I had to leave New York for personal legal problems you uunderstand) and we do not make olives here either.

  3. Chiffonade,
    Thanks for your comments. I will certainly grant that much of home preserving is time consuming, though olives take no more than a few minutes of preparation and a month or two of neglect.

    For me, it’s not about efficiency as much as authenticity and enjoyment. I enjoy knowing where my food comes from, controlling the ingredients that go into it, and learning how it is prepared. I value home preparation methods and traditions and enjoy incorporating those into my cooking.

    Perhaps this is of little use to professional chefs, but that may have more to do with location and style of cuisine. In San Francisco, I know of several top restaurants that serve their own house cured olives ; )

  4. Your olives look wonderful! How wonderful to have your own cured olives in your pantry! I’d love to do this, but geography conspires against me.

    I do manage to keep a couple jars of my own preserved lemon around, though, and there is nothing better than making a dish and knowing that you’ve produced the key ingredients yourself.

  5. I’m hoping Cheffonade’s post is a joke.
    Thanks for the post. i have two olive trees I planted (one for each son’s birth) and now they’re really starting to yield so this post is ideal. I can’t think of anything more romantic than to eat home-cured olives from trees that represent peace the world over.

  6. Ann,
    Thanks! If you’re on the East Coast, I believe you can have green olives shipped out, though that takes a lot more dedication!

  7. Steve,
    Thanks for you comments, and for your visit. I love the story of your two olive trees. Our father planted a rose bush for each of us when we were small and the one he planted for me, a Cecile Bruner, is still one of my favorites varieties.

  8. Thanks for showing me this process!!

  9. Rose –

    How wonderful that you are home-curing olives! I can only imagine the intensity, and freshness, of flavor. Not to mention the personal satisfaction of concocting your own seasoned brine, based on imagination/creativity and ancient, thousand-year-old recipes/traditions. To think: your standards are higher than those of a professional chef!

    If and when I’m in San Francisco, I hope you’ll invite me over for a taste.

    It all reminds me of my childhood in Ft. Lauderdale, FL, where every fall our parents took us to pick Kalmatas and Cerignolas from a nearby grove (old Gus’ out west of Davie). At home, together in the kitchen, we packed them in brine jars, our fingers smelling or seawater, garlic, and lemon, always anxious, already, for the six months of curing to be done. Authenticity.

    cheffOnade, if you’re looking to pick up a new skill, or just biding your time in Clearwater (a great growing region for olive trees, by the way) while the Brooklyn courts decide your fate, I suggest trying your hand at home olive-curing. Check out these fine articles/links to start:

    Olives, Flavored by Time, Seasoned With Memories
    (NY Times)
    http://www.nytimes.com/2007/10/17/dining/17oliv.html?_r=1&oref=slogin

    Olive Trees in Florida?
    (Olives101.com)
    http://www.olives101.com/2007/04/28/olive-trees-in-florida-you-bet/

    Cheers,
    Nank

  10. Sooooo,,,,how did your olives turn out. I am quite pleased with mine and they passed the BIG test when Aref said he really liked them. I finally bought some pre-skinned garlic cloves; brined them for a few weeks and have been adding them to the olives as space permits…we gotta get serious about all this next year. Aref’s Brother and Sister were here from Lebanon and they were chased several times because they would harvest any olives they saw growing on the streets. The concept of leaving them to rot on the tree just isn’t an option in their home-town of Soufar.

  11. i have may olive trees and want to know in detail how to cure olives. i have washed them and soaked them in water for a week but how do i mix a bucket full to keep them in . is it oil viniger what?

  12. Hello. Great job. This is a great story. Thanks!

  13. I live in utah. Growing up, my grandparents cured their own olives. I happend to come across an old crock made by the Western Pottery Co. in Denver a 6 gallon one. Fortunately, my aunt and father are still alive and know the old recipe my grandparents brought with them from Italy. My question is, how do I go about getting some raw green olives, and will a olive tree grow in Utah? I would really like to purchase some olives so I can cure them like my grandparents used to. It would be greatly appreciated if you could pass on some information on how to obtain them. Thank you, Joseph

  14. […] in the fall either, when the fruit matures. Maybe someday I’ll try and cure some of them, use Rose’s recipe. Perhaps when I’m done with the Ph.D. and we’ve got kids that can help me gather them […]

  15. Where can I buy raw black olives. Especially kalamatas.

  16. We are goint to attempt this. I would like to know more about the flavor from b. aronoff. We are located just north of Sacramento,CA and have several olive trees on the ranch and a huge one on my yard. I also have several crocks so here it goes. Any advice on this would be appreciated.

  17. Here is a company which sells raw olives:

    http://www.greatolives.com/fresh_olives.php

    It says the season usually begins around the middle of September.

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