Sunday, September 13, 2015

Curing Olives at Home

I certainly meet all kinds of interesting people as an admin in a home canning and preserving group on Facebook. As much as I am there to teach I also learn from people all over the country- different regional foods, recipes and techniques, a lot of history about foods and preserving, and what's the newest in research and testing. David Burnette in a gentleman from Phoenix, who cures olives at home from trees on his property. Arizona's climate is perfect for olive trees, citrus, and other tropical plants that would certainly not survive a cold Iowa winter. The soil where he lives is alkaline and the olive trees' shallow root systems thrive. I'm a little bit envious actually. Everyone knows I am an olive freak and have been reading about curing olives and wishing I had a great source for shipping them to me.

David tells me olives are not palatable fresh off the tree, they must be cured. Unripe, or green, olives get a 3 to 4 week soak in water that is changed daily. This is called water curing and this process leaches out the chemical compound, called oleuropein, that gives fresh olives their bitterness. In order to completely get the compound out, and allow the water to fully penetrate the olive, you need to "crack" them with a mallet or wooden rolling pin, or cut several slits in them. Make sure when they are soaking that they are completely submerged.

You can see how David cut slits in the olives
the help leech the olives and get the brine in.
Once the soaking period is done, you're ready to make the brine that your olives will be stored in. A good basic recipe, enough for up to 10 pounds of olives is:

1 gallon cool water
1 1/2 cups pickling salt
2 cups vinegar

Place the olives in containers, such as jars, and cover with the brine. You can add flavorings to the brine, like strips of citrus peel, sprigs of fresh herbs, even garlic. Store the olives in the fridge and they last about a year.

You can also brine-cure olives in a similar process but you use a salt water brine of varying strengths during the process.

Ripe, or black, olives, can be oil cured, salt cured or brine cured, and also take several months to cure. To salt-cure ripe olives you want to have olives that are fully ripened. Wash and completely dry them. You need to weigh the olives so you can get the right amount of salt. You need 1 1/2 cups pickling salt for every two pounds of olives. You need a wooden crate- like a fruit crate- that you line with cheesecloth or old sheets. Mix the olives and salt together so they are completely coated with salt. Pour the olives and salt into the prepared crate and cover with a layer of salt, and cover with cheesecloth to keep any multi-legged friends out. You want to find a good safe COVERED spot outdoors to place the crate. Set it on top of bricks to get good air circulation all around. After the first week, dump all the olives into a container and mix them up and check for any bad ones. Then back into the crate they go. Repeat every week for a month, then taste an olive- if you like the flavor, you're done. Remove the olives from the salt and pack into glass jars with new salt for storage. You can also cover them with olive oil.

David also uses the leaves of the olive tree. Dried, they can be stored for a very long time and can be used to make teas which are loaded with healthful benefits. Incredibly, the very compound we want to remove from the olives is the compound that's so beneficial when made into a tea. Olive leaf tea is known to have anti-inflammatory and  antioxidant properties, help reduce bad cholesterol and high blood pressure. Studies have also shown a link between these compounds and fighting cancer and diabetes, Alzheimer's, arthritis, heart disease and stroke. 

So if you think you don't like olives...... maybe it's time to take another look at these incredible little gems.

**All photos from David Burnette

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