The article in today's Times about making olives at home has me intrigued. Are there lots of Chows who cure their own olives? Do you have any recipes you might be kind enough to share?
We started curing olives last year...we just used the directions for green/lye curing that is available from the UC Extension office (should be able to find directions online). They are really good, and not nearly as difficult as we thought it would be.
I am hoping that someone will post their experiences with keeping home-cured olives for extended periods of time - pressure canning, replacing brine with olive oil, etc. My directions said that due to low-acid nature of the olives, they should be consumed within a few weeks, or the saltiness of the brine increased (which made the olives too salty unless we soaked in fresh water for a day or two before eating).
I did find a recipe using prepared olives (a mix, like kalamata, green, nicoise,etc), marinated in herbs, oil and lemons that sounded insanely good. I'm going to try it with this year's crop one they are finished. I'll post it if you like.
I cured my own olives for 10 years, gallons and gallons and GALLONS at a time each season, until we moved away from my beloved Queen Sevillano olive orchard a couple years ago :(
I used two recipes, and by far the most preferred by me and by all the "old timers" who used to come by my orchard to pick (I had about 30 trees, more than enough for many home curers and also a few oil companies who used to come pick at the end of the season), is the recipe from the UC extension office...definitely! Sunset Magazine published one about a decade ago, but again, the UC office recipe is by far the best and most consistently reliable.
As for keeping olives, I believe the UC recipe includes two storage methods -- one for quick consumption (where you keep them in a light brine and eat them within a couple weeks) and one that is good for six months, using a heavier brine. The only issue is that you need refrigerator space...home cured olives, regardless of the strength of the brine, really should only be kept under refrigeration. It's true that they need to be soaked for 24 hours in cold water before consuming, unless you use them in recipes where the salt is warranted. The soaking is part of the deal...just goes with the territory! But you get used to it, and we had a rotating system where the jar in the front was the "water" jar, and whenever it got low we just added olives from a brined jar...that way we always had them available whenever we wanted them. On the rare occasion that some actually weren't eaten in those 6 months, I just replaced the heavy brine and we could keep them longer. Again, the key here is that they MUST be kept refrigerated. I ended up with an extra refrigerator just for olives, though I doubt many people are really quite so fanatic and obsessed as we and our fellow growers were... :)
I've used both the green and the black method (FYI, for those unaware, most olives can be either green or black...it's the curing method that determines their color, not the variety of olive), and we enjoyed both...although if you're not extremely careful about stirring, you'll get polka dot olives rather than black olives! The black comes from exposure to air, so unless you tirelessly stir (which is difficult when working with larger batches or many, many buckets), you can end up with green spots on your black olives. It doesn't affect the taste, and actually my kids thought they were sort of cute -- but just a warning if it's a recipe you want to try this season!
I've stayed away from oil curing and I definitely won't pressure can...I know enough about olives and canning to just not go there. I have instead gone the route of adding garlic, herbs, chilis, etc. to the brine mix, and they come out beautifully. Our Queens were huge, huge olives, so the novelty is in the size, not in anything fancier than that. Since canning season is in full swing now, olives are always cured and ready a little bit before Thanksgiving, and in a 6-month brine solution they were plenty fresh for Christmas gift giving...and the rest usually didn't last more than 6 months in our house anyway.
Some hints from years of experience...try to use white buckets, not black buckets...black buckets actually seemed to increase the heat of the lye solution, so I needed to adjust my soaking time accordingly. That was fine after I figured it out, but the first time I used black buckets I ruined the whole batch. White buckets make it easier to see the color of the rinsing solution too. If you must use black, try to make ALL your buckets black, so that your soaking/rinsing times can all remain the same. Also, be sure not to put too many olives in each bucket. You can do the math and increase your lye solution just fine, but when I was getting up at 2am to either stir or change the solution, having to dump very VERY heavy buckets of olives just took all the fun out of what I was doing! When I first started, I put my buckets in the bathtubs -- this works great for small batches, as you can just tip and dump, and any little buggers that escape get trapped in the tub. However, once we started doing dozens of 10-gallon buckets each time, we obviously didn't have that many bathtubs and had to move to the garage! I also learned that using a plastic or thrift-store ceramic plate on top of the olives works much, much better than a dishtowel, which is what most recipes will tell you to use. However, after breaking two of my good dishes while trying to dump the soaking solution, I realized that a run to the thrift store for a few cheap and expendable plates was definitely worth the trip. Finally, don't skip the part about needing gloves...if you've never been burned by a splash of lye, you don't know what you're missin'...wear the gloves...
I'm not sure where you will be getting your olives, but it's getting a bit late in the season...you'll be seeing olives that have started to turn purple. This doesn't mean they're becoming black olives...just that the sugars in them are going to change the chemistry of the curing process. Try to pick (or locate) only olives that either are green with tiny white dots on them, or are green with very, very minimal purple hues.
Above all, HAVE FUN...I miss picking and curing terribly! It's really a wonderful experience and a rich tradition, and I'm sure you'll love it...
Thanks for the great info, tsfirefly. I'm curious about your concerns for the pressure canning and hope that you will elaborate. The UC Ext olive curing directions I have discuss the two brine methods you mentioned, and also pressure canning (with detailed directions) and freezing (reccommended for mission olives only) as 4 possible methods to preserve the cured olives over time.
I've done an awful lot of pressure canning of other low acid foods (meats and meat stocks, green beans, etc) with great success and no spoilage. My biggest question on pressure canning olives is the resulting texture of the olives after processing. I have used many of the UC Extension food prep guidelines that I don't believe there is a food safety issue - if anything, UCX uses an abundance of caution. I just want to find a way to keep our crop without the second frig (already have two large freezers in the laundry room, no garage, and no more room!)
I am not going to try oil or salt curing at this time, but I did want to learn if the lye-cured olives could be kept in oil (without refrigeration) for an extended period of time, say several months? We experimented with herbs, garlic, peppers, lemon peal in the brine last year, with lovely results. I would like to try same with oil instead of brine.
We have our own trees (Mission, manzanillo and Baroni, I think the newest one is called), and yes, it's late! We have been away from home for several weeks and this is our first opportunity to get them picked and processed. There were a few olives starting to turn purple....we'll just do the best we can, and plan our travels better next year!
Thanks for the advice and information!