We are surrounded here by olive trees, our own and everyone else’s, and sometimes it feels as if every family has at least one tree. Given that, it took us a surprising amount of time to try preserving our own. Partly through timing: we never seemed to be in the right place at the right time for olive picking. Partly through uncertainty about the process. Then last year we were in the right place at the right time, everyone seemed to be in the fields with black nets, or on the roads towing the ubiquitous small trailer to the cooperativa. I did some web research and finally followed the advice of Californian Hank Shaw. I decided to use his brine preservation method, rather than the water preservation method, because it needs less changing of solution [once a month for brine, daily for water]. We picked the olives in November. The first job was to sort them, discarding olives with even the tiniest blemish on the skin. Next, we slashed the flesh of each olive down to the stone. We soaked them in Hank’s brine solution of ¼ cup salt to 4 cups water, plus ½ cup of white wine or cider vinegar. I used white wine vinegar.
For storage I bought large rectangular lidded plastic boxes from Ikea, and put a cheap tea towel on the surface of the brine to keep the olives submerged. Then I stored them out of the way in the pantry. To start with I checked them every week [above, after brining for one week], I can understand how this can become obsessive.
The olives started to change colour [above, after two months] which I was concerned about until I checked Hank’s blog which said this is normal. I resisted the temptation to prod them and touch them. After a while I stopped looking and let the brine do its job. The colour change after four months [below] was significant, and reassuring.This method does take longer than the water method, but is easier and less time-consuming. I changed the brine each time without rinsing or touching the olives. After four months, I bottled them in sterilised jars with the selected fillings and topped them up with our olive oil. The fillings I chose were:-
Fresh thyme and lemon peel
Garlic & chilli
Fresh rosemary & lemon peel
Lemon peel & black peppercorns Then I put them back into the pantry and forgot about them. After six months, they were still a little salty for my taste [but I really don’t like salt!]. After 12 months they were wonderful, perfumed by the flavourings, and still slightly crunchy.
So my verdict? Good for a first attempt. I will follow a friend’s advice next time and make deeper, longer slashes in the olive flesh so the flavourings take hold. Perhaps that way we’ll be able to eat them sooner.
Check out Hank’s excellent advice here:-
5 to remember
nunca – never
la salmuera – the brine
un rato – for a while
una maca – a blemish
la despensa – pantry