Preserving Olives

It’s a long process, curing olives, but not a lot of work. The first thing you have to do is find yourself a good rock. A rock with a good heft, one that the hand closes around comfortably. It’s for cracking the olives. I found a likely one in a field near my building and brought it home to wash with plenty of hot water and soap.

 My usual recipe calls for simply packing the olives in brine, but I was curious to try a method with vinegar, so that’s what I did. The result was a little too vinegary for my taste, but after a second brining with fresh herbs, the olives – with only a hint of vinegar – were a savoury treat.

You’ll only need a big jar and water the first week. So get yourself a clean rock and two to four pounds of raw green olives to start. Look for signs of ripening among the olives you buy – some will have turned darker.

Rinse the olives and drain. Discard any spoiled ones. Crush them with your handy-dandy rock, a few at a time, and put them in the jar. Some will escape and fly around the kitchen, of course, but just pick ‘em up, rinse again, and keep going. Take it easy, though – the weight of the rock should be enough to just crack the olives, not smash them to bits.

Actually, you don’t have to do the rock thing. If you have a meat-tenderizing mallet, that’ll work fine.

Cover the fruit with water. Make sure there are none floating – weigh them down with a small saucer or drape plastic wrap over the surface of the water to keep them under. Change the water every 24 hours. Do this for a week.

The olives will lose their bright colour and take on a drabber, khaki shade. This is good – it means that their bitterness is leaching out. When the olives are uniformly darker, taste them to judge if they’re ready for brining. If they’re still bitter, soak them and change the water for another few days.

preserving olives
Pickle shop in Levinsky market, Tel Aviv. (wikimedia)

Once the olives are ready, drain them and put them in a large bowl while washing out their jar. Make a brine using 10 grams of salt for every 100 ml of water or 7 tablespoons of salt per half-cup of water. For every 4 cups of brine, add 1/2 cup of apple cider vinegar. Mix well.

Replace the olives in the clean jar. Pour the salt/vinegar brine over all. Add 1 sliced lemon or lime, hot red peppers, garlic cloves, sprigs of rosemary or thyme, black pepper, bay leaves, allspice or grape leaves – to taste and depending on what you have in your kitchen at the time.

Cover the olives with plenty of olive oil to exclude air and prevent spoilage. Close the jar. Leave it alone for a month, then taste an olive every week or so until you’re satisfied. For me, it took 8 weeks. If you like them the way they are, serve them as is. If, like me, you prefer a salty taste to vinegar, drain them, make a new brine as above without the vinegar, and put them back in the jar with fresh herbs and a new layer of olive oil to cover them. After a week or two, they’ll be ready, and just keep improving over time.

Keep your olives in a cool, dry place.

How should you serve them? Here are some ideas:

  • Eat them alone, as an appetizer. A little fresh, chopped parsley, cilantro or basil, mixed into the bowl of olives you intend to eat right away, is a very nice thing.
  • Chop some into dishes that use chopped meat, like picadillo, meatloaf or hamburgers.
  • Add whole olives to braised chicken 10 minutes before serving.
  • Add to potatoes.
  • Add to rice.
  • Add some chopped to an omelet … the world is yours with these olives.