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When you pick and prep your own olives, think of the possibilities for using them…olive tapenade, stuffed olives, dirty martinis, olives in your salad, olives in the morning, olives in the evening, olives at supper time! What could be better, right? How about picking and preparing fresh olives exactly how you like them? If you live near an olive tree (most likely if you live in the Southwestern U.S.) then it is about time to get started!
Olives ripen in the late summer and early fall. Unfortunately, many home owners associations (HOAs) and cities spray the trees so that they do not produce any. Yes, I am not lying. People are letting olives fall and be wasted in large enough numbers to warrant this olivecide. This may be due to the need to process olives before human consumption. Unless you are pressing them raw for their lovely oil, olives are unbearably bitter if eaten fresh. Go ahead, try one. Let’s go through one technique for getting that bitterness out and getting the flavors you want in.
Step One: Pick Em
When you locate a tree that is producing, you will notice a few things. First, check out how gnarly and twisted the bark looks – so cool. Second, some of the olives are likely green and some are dark purple or black in appearance. The darker the olive, the more ripe it is. When you buy green olives in the store, just like green peppers, you are buying unripened fruit. Pick a proportion that suits your taste. There are many varieties of olives you may enjoy, but that should not stop you from trying what’s growing locally. Make sure to also pick some good glass containers that seal well.
Step Two: Pit Em
Much of the bitterness in an olive comes from the pit. You can keep the pit in, but it will take much longer with this process to get the bitterness out. I recommend buying a cherry or olive pitter. You can usually find them at any store that sells kitchen wares. When you bring back your container full of olives, get to work pitting them and working out your forearms. Pitting them also allows you to stuff them! Next, fill up your container or containers with the pitted olives so that you leave an inch or so of room below the lid. Bonus challenge: save some seeds and sprout them to grow some more olive trees!
Step Three: Use a Good Deal of Salt
You are going to need a good deal of salt for this method. Make sure to use pickling or canning salt. If that is hard to find, then use a coarse variety like kosher salt. You are going to need it to cure (or remove the bitterness) the olives by making what is called a brine (or super salty water). This process also ferments the olives and adds an amazing new layer of favor. Make amixture of 1 cup of water per 1.5 tablespoons of salt. If you boil the mixture, the salt will dissolve faster and you will purify the water a bit more. Also, if you pour the hot brine over the olives, you will create a much tighter seal – preventing microbial growth along with the power of the salt. Make enough so that the mixture can fill up the remaining volume of your containers slightly below the lid. Seal your containers and put them in a dark place that will stay around room temperature. Wait one week.
Step Four: Repeat
After a week, you can pour out the brine and try an olive to see how much bitterness has been pulled out. Brine your olives again using Step Three if they are still too bitter. This process takes between three and five weeks typically, depending on your preference for bitterness and fermented flavor.
Step Five: Several Shades of Marinades
After the olives match your taste, you can make a lighter brine and throw in your favorite vinegar, as well as herbs and spices to join the party. They will last for months if you maintain a good seal – even at room temperature.
Also, check out a comprehensive guide to curing and prepping olives with recipes here. The above is just my preference after a couple years of prepping my own olives. Read up, get picking, and start experimenting, Green Monsters!
Lead image source: Favio/ Flickr