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Have you "lyed" fresh olives?

We have two great olive trees that produce quite a bit of fruit. I have been meaning to cure them for years, but am reluctant because of the use of drain cleaner...LYE. If you have done this before, can you encourage or discourage me from this venture. TIA

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  1. I haven't cured olives with lye probably for the same reasons you are reluctant, but have cured them for several years in salt brine and I would encourage you to try it. It takes a lot longer than lye, but the results are terrific and you don't have to deal with drain cleaner, except for a clogged drain ;-)

    1. My father in-law uses lye and they taste really not-good-for you. As in toxic. He also uses salt brine. I prefer those, though they're pretty bland. Big green salty hard things, actually. But maybe you can do better! Good luck.

      1 Reply
      1. re: Glencora

        I have tried salt brining olive 2-3 times and never came out with anything resembling an olive I would want to eat. I tried cracking them, or not. One batch I must have soaked for 5 months in very salty brine and still they never turned into anything you would want to eat.

      2. Back when I was in college at UC Davis, I lye cured many a bucket of olives for a professor I worked for. The olives are soaked in the lye to remove the bitterness - we would use a phenlyalalnine solution dropped on the cut surface of the olive to see how far the lye penetrated. The phenylalanine turns pink if lye is present so we would look for a pink ring just to the pit. After the lye removes the bitterness you soak the olives in a series of clean water to remove the lye (done over a course of 2-3 days.) We would cut open the olives and drop some phenylalanine on the olive to see if all the lye soaked out. Then we would soak the olives in a brine solution. Sometimes we would then ferment them to make them sour. The whole process took 1-2 weeks depending on the variety and temperature.

        These days I am much more fascinated with the dry salt curing method. I haven't tried this but one of these days...

        1. Think of it like using soap on your dishes. Yes there will be residue but well within the realm of control. Odd tastes are inexcusable and will not occur after proper rinsing.

          After rinsing the flavor can be enhanced by brine including various flavoring agents (garlic, bay, thyme, pepper, chili flake). Not all olives are created equal in terms of flavor and care should be taken to make sure they are tree ripe.

          Oliveto in Oakland CA has made an art of curing olives. http://www.oliveto.com/articleolives....

          1. Idiotic question, I'm sure, but do you need to cure olives before pressing them to make olive oil? Is homemade olive oil feasible?

            1 Reply
            1. re: David Kahn

              olives are picked fresh and pressed within 24-48 hours. Ususally, a large stone is used. Don't know how you'd press small amounts of fruit.

            2. I have done salt brine and plain salt. Plain salt is SOOOOOOOOOO easy--no recipe needed. I only use the olives after they have turned black. A little red/green tone is okay but I don't think it will work with solid green. Wash black olives and toss with kosher salt. Wait. Occassionally pour off the bitter liquid. You can throw in stuff like rosemary or thyme to add some flavor.

              As far as I can tell, they last forever. If they get too dry, you can reconstitute them with a bit of hot water.

              Salt brine was trickier--the floating stuff makes me a bit nervous even though I know intellectually that there was so much salt that nothing could live in it. When doing the brined ones, you have to cut a gash in the olive so that the water can get in. I think if you don't it takes FOREVER.

              I haven't tried lye but the description doesn't sound so difficult. I think I would feel comfortable doing that some time if I could test it with that phenlyalalnine solution that someone mentioned.

              And lastly, Olive oil comes from raw olives. I think mostly the green ones are used before they turn black but I suppose you can press the black ones too. The only thing is that you need a really heavy stone or machine to squash the olives in--I think that some of the flavor comes from the pit as well. I believe that the oil is graded based on what pressing and how hard the olives were ground down.

              1. Thanks everyone for all your comments, information and links. Although it seems like a lot of hassle, I think Mochimunchie's process is the safest.I haven't checked out Karl G's link, but will soon. I am not sure if I want to proceed yet...That salt brine is sounding better. The trees have tiny fruit on them, so I have some time to contemplate. Thank you all again!
                Ah, David Kahn, I was interested in the same thing a while back and saw this sentence at a site and decided no way.
                "From each ton of fruit anywhere from 12 to 50 gallons of oil can be produced." Not a home type of thing to do and no, if I read it right, the olives are taken to be pressed within a day of harvest.

                1. You don't need lye-- we cure them every year with salt only and they turn out well.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: JudiAU

                    Do you salt black olives like jenn?

                  2. I too have olive trees and have been reluctant to try to cure the fruit (the government warnings on the instructions I sent away for scared me to death!). I would like to try the salt cure, and I would also like to try an oil cure, if anyone knows how and can assure me that I won't poison myself.

                    2 Replies
                      1. re: mochi mochi

                        Thank you - that looks like exactly what I want. Come olive time, I'll give it a try.

                      1. I just picked my second crop of olives from my Fratoio olive tree, all of 2 cups (young tree!) and tossed them in drain cleaner! My husband is very skeptical to say the least, so thanks for the comments on this. I tried Paul Bertoli's brine method last year and the darn things never did cure so I must be doing something wrong.

                        I am rinsing and rinsing now as I don't have that chemical to show if all the lye is gone.........where do you buy it?

                        1. All the nonsense about the scare of using lye is a little ridiculous. If you go to Germany don't eat an authentic german pretzel then , that is how they also dip the bretzeln (pretzels) to get that beautiful color and crispness.

                          Food Grade Lye is available at www.aaa-chemicals.com and is safe to use for the purposes you are asking here.

                          1. So there is a difference between food grade lye and the lye sold as drain cleaner (which is 100% lye)? OK, so I used the drain cleaner, rinsed like crazy for 4 days, then threw them in a brine for a week. I tasted one and it was still a bit bitter and had a very smoky flavor, which was a bit of a surprise. I am going to let them sit in the brine a while longer. If they don't lose the bitter flavor, out they go and I will try again. Thanks for all the good info, I want to try tossing the olives in kosher salt and see what happens.

                            1. I didn't try it this year, but I think I have been converted to making at least some lyed olives. In Backroom Wines in Napa sometime in November and along with a nice glass of scheurebe, I was served Dan's amazing olives. They were big and bright green and, unlike my salty brined olives, surprisingly grassy and fresh tasting. The true olive flavor shone through without so much salt. He says they don't last but a few weeks.

                              http://www.backroomwines.com/foodandw... scroll down a bit....

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: Junie D

                                Thank you Junie! I will try next year also. Keep me posted on your success !
                                I waited too long this year and missed the harvest. They ripen so quickly.

                                1. re: mochi mochi

                                  I missed it this year too. Oh well, November will be here again soon!

                              2. on a related topic, my green olives have just about achieved the flavor i want (from months of salt brining). now, how do i preserve them without the brine, and can i add flavorings such as chile flakes, etc? i'm thinking it would take a LOT of olive oil to cover them...maybe a vinegar solution is the way to go? thanks--i have about 4 quarts, and i'm as proud as the mother of a newborn!

                                4 Replies
                                1. re: chez cherie

                                  "i'm as proud as the mother of a newborn" I can totally relate. Congratulations on your new olives! I think this should be added to the "You know you're a Chowhound when..." thread.

                                  To preserve our brined olives I simply put them in a weaker brine - 1/2 pound salt per gallon of water versus the brining solution of 1 pound per gallon. I'll often add some vinegar to that too for flavor. Then I keep them either in our cold garage or in the fridge and change the weak brine every month or so.

                                  To flavor them, I usually wait until a few days before I plan to serve, then drain and mix with olive oil, garlic, chili flakes, herbs, fennel seed, lemon zest, or any combination of those.

                                  Over the holidays I talked with a woman from Calabria who takes cured green olives and flavors them by layering in a crock with salt and crushed fennel seed. Those olives were wonderful.

                                  1. re: Junie D

                                    oh,thank you! i think i will have to try the salt and fennel seed trick with some of mine...do you think kosher salt is the way to go, or coarse sea salt?

                                    1. re: chez cherie

                                      I think either would be good. Let us know how they are.

                                      1. re: Junie D

                                        OK, it is that time of year again! I am going to try the straight salt trick this year, will keep you posted!

                                2. We used to lye cure olives every year when I was a kid. Pick the olives when they are green and just about to turn red. Pick them when you see the first olives on the tree turning color. Get two clean PLASTIC food grade buckets (I recommend plastic food grade buckets because they are non reactive). No metal containers…No metal containers (lye does not get along with lots of metals used in the kitchen, stainless steel is OK, but I wouldn’t use a nice pot for this application). Go to a fast food joint and ask them if they have any buckets you can have. Mix up your lye (4 tablespoons of lye for each gallon of water) in one of your buckets.
                                  Some words about lye. It is sodium hydroxide. It is a base (the ugly twin of acid). They use it in drain cleaner because it is really good at dissolving organic materials (hair, grease, ick). YOU are made COMPLETELY of organic material (I hope). Lye is not toxic, it won’t poison you, it is corrosive, it will dissolve you. If you get the lye on you, rinse it off quickly with lots of water. If you rinse it off it can’t act on you any longer. Rinse it off before it does damage. Don’t get the lye on you. Wear gloves when you are dispensing the lye. Use stainless steel, or plastic utensils to measure out and mix your lye solution. You may consider wearing glasses or goggles when you mix your solution in the event of a splash or boil over… Yes, boil over. When lye dissolves in water it is an exothermic reaction. If you add too much lye to not enough water or add lye to water too quickly the water can heat beyond its boiling point and … boil over. Make sure you are using the right amount of lye for the water and add the lye to the water slowly (DO NOT add water to lye; always add lye to water to dissipate heat more efficiently). If it starts to boil (and it shouldn’t), stop adding lye and back away from it. Once you have the lye in solution it will be dilute enough to not be as dangerous. If you get it on you just rinse it off with water promptly. If you get lye on you at any time rinse it off in cold water. If it gets on your clothing and soaks to your skin take off that clothing and rinse yourself first and then your clothing.
                                  All of this having been said, the solution you will be dealing with is not strong enough to dissolve you or your olives, but the powder or liquid you use to make that solution IS strong enough. The solution probably will be strong enough to irritate your skin and could damage your eyes. Just know what you are dealing with, use some common sense, take precautions and you will be fine. The lye is the most hazardous when in its concentrated form. Once you have it in dilute solution it is much less hazardous.
                                  Wash your olives and put them in the lye solution. The next day the lye solution will have turned a dark purple color (this is the stuff in the olives that makes them taste bitter, tannic acid I believe). Mix up a new batch of lye solution and transfer the olives to the new solution. The next day (3rd day) slice open a big olive and look at the flesh. It should be turning a yellow green color from the outside of the olive in toward the pit. You will see the flesh near the pit will have a purplish color and the flesh near the outside of the olive will have turned the yellow green. Keep putting the olives in fresh lye solution daily until all of the flesh of a big olive has turned to the yellow green color (this can take more or less than a week depending on the size of the olives).
                                  When all of the flesh of a big olive has turned to the yellow green color it is time to remove the lye from the olives. In the morning and in the evening put the olives in a bucket of fresh water. After two days (4 changes of water) taste one of the olives. If it tastes harsh or bitter continue to soak for another day (another two changes of water) and taste again the next day (this may go on for a while, again, more or less than a week depending on the size of the olives).
                                  When they don’t taste harsh or bitter anymore they will taste very bland, not much like anything (don’t be discouraged). The olives are cured and they only need seasoning. Put them in salted water (as much or as little salt as you want)for about three days. Eat them just like that. Many people would put in too much salt for my taste. You only need enough to make them taste like an olive. My favorite way to eat them is to let them soak in pickle juice for a week. You will never find olives like them. The oil in the olive rounds out the flavor of the pickle juice. They don’t taste really acid like pickles do, they taste rich. A very unique flavor.

                                  2 Replies
                                    1. re: Muncheroo

                                      Wow, that is a way cool (if a bit old) post. Thanks.

                                    2. I've cured olives in brinr, dry salt, and lye. The lye cured were definitely the best. You'll want to rinse them thoroughly and keepsoaking and changing the water as many days as necessary to leach out the lye. That's just common sense. Then you spend some time soaking them in progressively stronger brines to taste.
                                      The lye is quite diluted and will halp clean your kitchen sink drain. Just be careful with it.

                                      1. In the lye vs brining issue, I decided to use the lye method.
                                        I looked carefully at commercial-strength crystal drain cleaners, but they are all not the same. I looked for one that was pure lye and nothing else. Items like Drano have lye, but also add "stabilizers and a dye". Not a good choice.

                                        The one that I found and bought is a product called Roebic Professional Strength Crystal Drain Opener. The label reads [ ... this product is 100% sodium hydroxide ..."]

                                        Now, for all of you foodie purists out there, there is still the question about whether or not it is food grade sodium hydroxide. Food grade is 99% pure by government standards.

                                        Is the Roebic product "food grade"? They would not make that claim because it is intended to dissolve hair balls in your pipes. "100%" doesn't guarantee there are not some impurities in the product (all manufactured producs have some), however I would be willing to bet that the impurities are so miniscule that it won't matter. The impurities (if any), along with the lye will get all leached out in rinsing and soaking.

                                        The general rule of thumb is to use a product as it would be intended, so this is not advice; just telling you all what I am doing. If I get sick and die, I promise to write back to this forum to let you know! ;-)