I have always loved olives but if I’m honest with you, I really had no idea what was involved in curing olives. My parents have a magnificent Manzanilla (or Manzanillo) olive tree in their backyard standing at nearly 5 meters tall. These olives have a superb fresh flavour and a generous pulp – perfect for curing.
I had read that late autumn is the best time to pick and cure olives. So there we were, a month or so ago now, with sleeves rolled and buckets on hand. We picked olives that were mostly coloured yet still fairly firm and we were careful not to bruise them. Then it was time to get to work.
From my research, it would seem that the flavour and texture of each style of olive depends partly on the curing process applied. My stepfather uses a fresh water and brine process and his olives are wonderfully juicy and flavourful. I haven’t tasted anything better yet so we decided to try this method of curing.
First step is to use a sharp clean knife to make a cut lengthwise into each olive. This allows the bitterness to more easily leach out. Rinse the olives in water and drain.
Place the olives in a food-grade plastic container (we had enough olives for two 8.5L air-tight containers) and cover them with fresh water. Keep the olives submerged by using a weight such as a plate. My stepfather – the handyman that he is – cut a ceramic tile to fit the top of the plastic container which kept the olives underwater. Close the container lid and let the olives do their thing.
Repeat this daily washing process – pouring out the old water and refilling the containers with fresh water – for up to 21 days depending on the bitterness levels of the olives.
Most of the research we did beforehand on olive curing suggests that you should soak your olives in water (changing the water daily) for up to 10 days. We found that even 2 weeks was not really enough time. The best test is to taste an olive. When the bitterness has nearly gone, the olives are ready for the brining stage.
At around 21 days most of the bitterness was taken care of. Keep in mind that you don’t want to soak out all the bitterness as that’s part of what makes olives so tasty. Plus soaking the olives for too long can lead to soft mushy olives with a watery taste. Nobody wants that.
To make the brine solution, dissolve 1.5 cups of natural rock salt in 6 litres of water (that’s ¼ cup of salt for every litre water). Drain the olives and cover with the brine solution. Close the container lid and leave overnight. Repeat this process after 24 hours – prepare a new batch of brine liquid, drain the olives and cover with the brine. We tasted the olives and they were packed with zing from the salt but not overly salty. It’s amazing how salt really intensifies the olive’s natural flavours.
Drain the olives, reserving the brine liquid, and fill the sterilised jars with the olives. It’s important to sterilise your jars to prevent mould and bacteria forming. We did this the easy way and just popped the jars, lids and rubber seals in the dishwasher on the hottest cycle. Make sure you let the jars cool before filling them with olives.
Finally, cover the olives with the reserved brine and pour a layer of good olive oil on top to completely cover the olives – this is important in order to avoid oxidation. Once the jars are tightly sealed, you can store them somewhere cool and out of direct sunlight like a dark cupboard. I’m not sure how long the bottled olives will store for but I would say for at least a few months.
There are many different ways to cure olives but I think this water and brine method is worth a try. Doing it yourself is fairly easy, and the advantages are many, not the least of which is enjoying the unique flavour of your own olives. I like to eat them straight up but you can flavour them any way you like with herbs, lemon, chilli or fresh garlic. B loves these olives as much as I do so it will be a fight to the last one!