Okay, this is my take on pickling olives. . .
We have just opened the last of the olives from 2007. I don’t use vinegar at all but stop the process at the brining stage and store them like that. I can’t be bothered with floating eggs and other witchery but use a 10% solution of brine in boiled and cooled rainwater. I do the whole process in the jars in which I will store them so the chance of bruising is less. I usually get 1 kg jars, fill them to the brim and screw the lid down between rinsings. I have never kept my olives in the dark, that’s why they are always a little pale coloured.
When I come to use the olives I rinse them and discard any that are bruised or feel a little slimy. Often a raft of slime will develop beneath the oil ( it’s a bit like “Mother of vinegar” ) and that is rinsed away too. I then either put them in fresh brine or marinade them in olive oil with herbs and garlic, always only making a small jar at a time and storing them in the refrigerator.
I know that there are issues around the growth of bacteria in olives, but the oil on top is designed to keep out air which seems to prevent anything too nasty from happening. I haven’t killed anyone yet. The best thing to do is throw anything away that seems at all suspicious, smells odd or fizzes when you take the lid off. Throw these in the compost and every worm for miles will come visiting.
You need to separate green olives from black
The Green Ones…
Nerys floats eggs and I stir up messes…we make a good working team, I am always ready to do the dirty jobs!
Wood Ash Method
Commercial olives are processed really quickly using a 3% solution of caustic soda. They keep their lovely colours and crunch. The CWA Cookbook will show you how to do this if you are interested in playing with dangerous substances, then eating them. Wood ash also creates lye in a much more gentle form. Green olives can be processed by rinsing alone but they do take a lot longer than the black ones and we don’t all have water to waste (rinse your olives onto plants, they love it.)
Sieve your ash on a day with out wind to remove lumps then mix to a runny paste with water and mix in your olives. Wear gloves if you have sensitive hands. I don’t and stir it with bare hands to help remove ground-in garden grime. Stir very gently each day, don’t use a spoon or you will bruise the olives.
When they have changed from bright green to khaki, they are ready to rinse and brine. These olives don’t keep as long as the rinsed ones, so don’t leave them more than two months. They may still look good but turn to mush when you touch them… definitely NOT for eating!
In the drier Mediterranean areas where water is scarce, olives are preserved by salting.
I first came across this method in a book about Sufi masters and just had to try it.
This is lazy man’s olive preserving. Simply mix your olives with an equal weight of cooking salt and place half fill an old pillow case or flour bag. Tie the opening shut and hang in the shade. The olives will gradually become tiny, wrinkled little prunes. You simply reconstitute them in warm water. They have a delicious smokey taste. Be warned, this process can take a few months so if you have wet winters after harvest, you need to hang them in doors so they don’t absorb moisture from the air. Put a container beneath them in case they drip.
I did a variation of this last year by storing my already soaked and rinsed olives in a 50% salt and lemon juice solution. They have become wrinkled and taste too salty to eat with out rinsing but have a delicious flavour.