I pickled eggplant today and put a recipe and photo on our other blog http://gypsysoul-au.blogspot.com/ and today it's the turn of olives that are coming up to Kalbarri from Perth as I write.
My first childhood memory of olives was of a jar that lived for months in the refrigerator gradually growing a white scummy film over the top of the salty liquid inside it. The olives in the jar were a browny-green and filled with a rather unpleasantly slimy and to me, mysterious red vegetable matter. The jar and its contents were eventually thrown out and replaced at Christmas or whenever there seemed to be an occasion where a little sophistication was called for. Olive oil was also an enigma to me—the robust, earthy flavour seemingly at odds with rather bland British cooking.
A few years later I became friendly with an Italian restaurateur and his team of Spanish and Italian chefs and waiters. I also met Signor Bertolli who introduced me to Chianti--without which no meal of Spaghetti Bolognese is complete. These Mediterranean men undertook my education with enthusiasm—introducing me to all the wondrous varieties of prepared olives and to the subtleties of the oil from the dark, heavily perfumed and flavoured virgin oil to the light, golden oil that carries the memory of the warm sun.
Olives straight off the tree are hard and bitter. Curing is what removes the bitterness. Olives can be preserved green or black. A black olive is a ripe olive. Take care not to bruise the olives while collecting them or they will spoil.
There are many ways to preserve olives but the following are two that I have tried successfully.
Soaking the olives
1. Make two cuts in each olive running from top to bottom and equidistant or prick them with a fork---both work well and allow the water to penetrate the fruit and help to release the bitter juices.
2. Fill your containers (glass, plastic, earthenware or steel not aluminium as it will react) ¾ full with olives and fill to the top with water. Use something to ensure that the olives stay submerged, this can be a plate, a plastic bag containing water or anything else you may devise.
3. Cover the containers to exclude light and leave them in a very obvious place in the kitchen, as it’s important that the water be changed daily. If the weather is very hot you can add a little salt to the water after the first week to help to avoid bacterial spoilage.
4. The above procedure will need to be done for anything up to two weeks but after 8-10 days begin to test the olives by biting gently to test for bitterness and when it feels right then you can proceed to the next stage.
Brining the Olives
When you have determined that the olives are ready you will need to sterilise some large glass jars and prepare the brine.
1. About 1 cup (250g) of cooking salt to 8 cups (2 litres) of water is probably about right but the other way of determining the salinity is to half fill a bucket with water (or judge how much you will need) and place an egg in the water. Begin to add salt a cup at a time. Stirring to dissolve. When enough salt has been added the egg will pop to the top and float. Make sure that the salt is thoroughly dissolved before adding the drained and rinsed olives.
2. Three-quarter fill the jars with olives, pour in brine to 2cm above the olives and finish with 2cm olive oil to exclude air.
3. Cover with well fitting lids and put the jars in a cool dark place. The longer the olives stay in the brine (6 months or more) the better they will be but you can move to the next stage after 8 weeks if you like.
1. Rinse the olives well, put back into the jars filling them only ¾ full.
Make a mixture of ¼ cup coarse salt, 4 cups water and 4 cups of malt vinegar (you will obviously need to adjust these amounts depending on the quantity of olives you are preparing).
2. Add a few crushed cloves of garlic if liked and pour the liquid over the olives.
3. Finish by topping up with olive oil, fastening down with tight fitting lids and leaving in a cool dark place where they will keep for about 12 months but may be used when you can’t bear to wait any longer!
This uses less water as the olives aren’t rinsed each day.
1. Make cuts in each olive running from top to bottom and equidistant or bruise them gently with a rolling pin or prick them with a fork---all work well and allow the water to penetrate the fruit and help to release the bitter juices.
2. Place fruit in a big glass jar and cover with three cups brine solution made of ½ cup of cooking salt to 4 cups of water.
3. Pour a light film of cooking oil over the surface of the brine. Cover with a close fitting lid. Store in cool dark place for 2- 3 months testing occasionally for bitterness and when it tastes right then you can proceed to the next stage. Rinse the olives well, put back into the jars filling them only ¾ full.
4. Make a less salty mixture of ¼ cup coarse salt, 4 cups water and 4 cups of malt vinegar (you will obviously need to adjust these amounts depending on the quantity of olives you are preparing).
5. Add a few crushed cloves of garlic if liked and pour the liquid over the olives.
6. Finish by topping up with olive oil, fastening down with tight fitting lids and leaving in a cool dark place where they will keep for about 12 months.
7. If they are too salty for your taste take just as many as you will eat in a couple of weeks, drain off the brine and fill the jar with cold water. Refrigerate for 24 hours. If after this time they are still too salty fill the bottles with hot water and refrigerate again for 24 hours.
Now for the Yummy bit
Once the saltiness is to your taste you can use a marinade to add extra flavour. The marinated olives are ready for use after a few days and are good for up to a month.
Lemon and Thyme Marinated Black Olives
Use a vegetable peeler to remove thin strips of just the yellow part or zest of the lemon peel. The flavour of this appetiser improves over a couple of days so don't be tempted to rush the marinating time.
Orange peel may be substituted for lemon peel if liked.
500g brine-cured black olives
4 pieces [each 1 x 4cm] lemon zest, cut into long thin strips
6x1cm sprigs fresh thyme
¼ tsp ground coriander seed
2 cloves garlic, bruised or thinly sliced, not crushed
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1/4 cup extra light olive oil
In a container with a tight fitting lid combine the olives, lemon zest, thyme, garlic, pepper and olive oil. Cover tightly and shake container vigorously. Marinate in the refrigerator at least 2 days, stirring contents occasionally, before serving. Serve at room temperature.
The following photos are of green olives being soaked in wood ash water (lye) to leach out the bitterness. Nirala is very adventurous in her food preparation!
I haven't ever preserved green olives so I might leave it to her to add another entry on preservation of green olives.