Standing in line at the register at our local homebrew shop the other day, we saw someone paying for a large bag of little green somethings. When I asked the guy at the register what it was, he said that freshly harvested olives had just come in, and people were picking up their orders for the year.
It never occurred to me that you could cure your own olives at home. I was intrigued. They just so happened to have one extra, unclaimed bag of Colossal Sevillano olives. On a whim, I picked them up, knowing absolutely nothing about how to cure 10 lb of olives. The guy at the register kindly sent me home with an informational packet about the olive curing process.
The main objective when curing olives is to remove the bitterness. Eating fresh, uncured olives would be a nasty, nasty thing. Turns out there are a few different ways to accomplish this, using either lye curing, water curing, brine curing, or dry salt curing.
In the brining method, the olives actually undergo a natural fermentation, so I knew I had to try that. But since that method can take a few months before they’re ready to eat, I decided to go with the quicker water-curing method as well. So I did 5 lb of each.
In the brining method, bacteria present on the olives ferment the sugars in the fruit, converting them to lactic and acetic acids. The fermentation also breaks down the chemical bond between oleuropein (the bitter compound in olives) and sugars in the olives, removing the bitterness and making them palatable.
To do this, I sorted through the olives to remove any duds, and placed them in big glass jars, adding some oregano and garlic for good measure. The brine consists of 10 oz kosher salt and 2 cups white vinegar for every gallon of water. Pour the brine over the olives to cover completely, and loosely close the lids. It should take about 2 months at 70° F to ferment.
The water-curing method requires you to crack each olive so that the oleuropein can be leached out. So I gently smashed each one with a mallet before packing them into the jars.
For the first step of this process, simply cover the cracked olives with cold water, making sure they’re fully submerged (I weighed them down with a small Ziploc bag filled with water). Every 24 hours for about a week, I’ll drain out the jars and refill them with fresh water. The longer you soak them, the more bitterness you’ll remove from the olives.
After this, I’ll drain out the jars and add a finishing brine to flavor the olives. The brine will consist of 1 lb kosher salt and 2 cups white vinegar for every gallon of water. I’ll probably add in some other flavorings as well, I’m thinking oregano, fennel, garlic, and lemon. These could be ready to eat after only 4 days in the finishing brine. Unlike the brine-cured olives, these unfermented olives need to be kept refrigerated.
I have no idea how this will go. They could come out horrendous. I’ll be sure to post updates as things progress!