22 November 2008

It's Olive Curing Time #3

I'm still a little slow with my shoulder, but this afternoon starts the Olive Curing Project 2008. I spent a lot of time researching things online and will not proceed the same way as last year. First of all, why cure olives? To leach out oleuropein -- an extremely bitter water-soluble chemical. Don't believe me? Taste a fresh olive. But beware, the taste might linger for several hours. Curing takes care of that bitterness problem.

This is one of those foods that makes you ask, "How did people first figure out it was OK to eat?" The cultivation of olives started independently in both Crete and Syria as far back as 2,500 B.C. Some people theorise that olives fell into salty water of the Mediterranean and people ate those to find out this was something to consume. But that is conjecture. Regardless, I'm glad we know about them.

There are tons of different recipes and methods. Some are similar and some are quite different. Some olives are started by soaking in plain water and changing it every few days for up to 8-10 weeks. (That's what I tried to do last year.) Other methods soak the olives in lye. Nope, I don't want to do that. Some olives are soaked in a salt water brine for 4-8 weeks. Some olives are started in seasoned mixtures that use herbs, olive oil, wine, vinegar, etc. Some olives are scored - either once or several times around each olive. Other olives are pitted. Some are left whole.

Some olives are not put in liquid at all, but are just cured in salt. I'm particularly intrigued by the idea of putting all the olives in a pillowcase with salt and hanging from a tree limb in your yard. Reminds me of how my great-grandmother made cottage cheese. (And yes, I have made the cottage cheese that way. It was wonderful!) Choices choices!

After reading all the different methods, suggestions, recipes, ideas, etc. I have decided that I will score each of the olives once and start them out in a salt water brine (1/4 cup plain salt to 1 qt water). The brine gets changed every week. Later I will separate the olives into smaller containers and use some of the different vinegar/wine/herb mixtures for seasoning. The salt curing in a pillowcase will have to wait till next year. I don't intend to taste the olives until at least the third week. Last year I tasted a fresh one and believe me, once was enough.

Let's start by opening those boxes. Each box has 5 lbs of olives.

Check it out. These olives are two different sizes! I ordered these same two varieties last year and they were all the same size. These will be easier to tell apart.

The Sevillanos are quite large. After I made this shot, I found some even larger ones.

Here are both types on a plate together.

First thing was to wash the olives - one box at a time as I want to keep the varieties separate. I filled the sink with cold water, poured in the olives and gently swished them around a bit. Then just opened the sink drain to get rid of dirt, trash, etc. There wasn't much trash. Really just a few stems and a couple of leaves.

Scoring the olives. I went with just one cut per olive. That and washing them took me about an hour. And standing that long got me pretty tired. Several sources cautioned against cutting all the way to the pit. Not too hard to judge after cutting a few.

Making progress. As I scored each olive I started filling jars.

All done scoring. I've got about 2 gallons of each variety.

Covered in brine. I needed about 7 quarts of brine to cover all the olives. That used 1 & 3/4 cups of salt. Be sure you have plenty of plain salt on hand. Do not use iodized.

So now I have 4 gallons (approximately) of olives in brine sitting on a shelf in the garage. Except for stirring occasionally, they will pretty much be ignored for a week. Then I will change the brine - pouring off the old and refilling the jars with new.
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1 comment:

Demetra said...

Hello from Athens! I am where you were three years ago: first time trying to pick and cure olives. I can't believe I've been in Greece for almost nine years and I haven't tried it before. Anyway, thrilled that I am now! I picked some quite early so that I could experiment with the methods. I think I'm honing in on the pillowcase and the one you tried here in this post. (Right now I am doing this one but I will try salt-only on my next batch.) Thank you for posting this!! Would love to know if you have continued doing it and if you have any updates on your experience. Again, thank you, I really enjoyed your post and the photos. -Demetra