Friday, January 7, 2011

Our Olive-Curing Adventure Begins (May the Force be With Us)

We finally got around to harvesting the olives off our trees the day after Christmas. The weather had been dicey and incredibly rainy the last couple weekends so we never got around to harvesting our extremely ripe olives until now. Or at least what was left of them, as most of the fruit had dropped off of the Missions and Manzanillos - the Arbequina seemed to be holding onto its fruit just fine. 

12/26/10 Gil, harvesting whatever fruit was left on the Mission Olive trees.

After our recent rain storms, most of the ripe fruits had fallen off the trees.

With zippo experience in curing olives, I read through U.C. Davis' publication Olives: Safe Methods for Home Pickling for some guidelines. Let me tell you, I'm still not 100% sure we know what we're doing because there are so many different approaches to curing olives: there's water curing, lye-curing, brining, and dry-salt curing, AND the method you choose also varies for they type of olive you're curing (dark ripe, green ripe, Greek-style, Sicilian-style, Spanish-style, Mediterranean-style, etc.). Then after curing, you have to pick a method of preserving them. All pretty daunting, but in the end we decided to just do it - if they turn out to be incredibly crappy, then so be it. But at least it won't be as scary & confusing the next time around.

Since our harvest was small, we decided to combine all of the fruits together - Mission, Manzanillo, Arbequina - even though the Arbequina were rounder, smaller & not as "black" ripe as the other two varieties, and give them the water cure (sounds torturous). You're supposed to cut a couple lengthwise slits about 1/8" deep along two sides of each olive (Gil ended up only doing one slit, 'cause I gave him the wrong instructions - oops! We'll see if that makes a difference in the final product). Then, you place the olives in a large food-grade plastic bucket (we used a 5-gallon) and cover with cool water, placing a plate on top to keep the olives submerged. Cover the bucket loosely with a lid, and then change the water every 24 hours for 8-10 days until olives have reached the "desired level of debittering." If you like them less bitter, you can continue the water curing process for up to 20 days. Just make sure the olives don't get too soft, or they'll end up with a washed-out flavor. 

So as I'm writing this post, the olives are still undergoing their water-cure. I'll continue adding to this blog entry as the process continues.

Freshly harvested olives, getting a rinse-off in the bucket.

Here they are in the kitchen, getting hosed off again. Pick through and discard any olives that look under-ripe (i.e., not black) or blemished.

Cut a lengthwise slit, 1/8" deep on each side of the olive. Instructions say you can also lightly crack the olives with a mallet, but that didn't work out too well for us as we ended up smashing them to kingdom come instead.

All done and ready for the "cure."

Place olives in a large food-grade bucket and cover with cool, fresh water.

Weigh down the olives with a plate on top to keep them submerged.

Cover bucket loosely with a lid.

After 24 hours, drain the olives.

Return to bucket and cover with fresh water. Top with the plate again, cover loosely, and repeat this process anywhere from 8-20 days, depending on how bitter these guys are. 

That's it for update, when we get there, will be about preserving the cured olives.


  1. We have, olive trees. Will have to see if there is enough fruit to attempt this.

  2. Elephant's Eye, it's definitely a lot of work. If we have enough olives (12 trees so far), we may consider investing in an olive oil press. I'd certainly use more olive oil than brined or cured olives in my everyday cooking.

  3. I have 7 litres of assorted black olives. Am about to follow your instructions. Did you do olives again in January 2012?

    1. Wow - sounds like you've got quite a harvest! Our olive trees did not produce any fruit this past season so we were not able to cure any second time around. The Arbequina is loaded with flowers right now, so hoping we'll have a crop to harvest later in the year. The Mission & Manzanillos are also flowering, but not heavily.