Produce Superstars: What I’m Learning About Curing Olives at Home

Fresh, ripe coratina olives from Knoll Farms, Brentwood, CA.

I think I fell in love with olives and olive trees years ago, when I spent a winter in Positano, an ancient town on the unforgettably beautiful Amalfi Coast of southern Italy. In that region, olive trees, with their silvery-green leaves and  gnarly trunks, are as natural a part of the landscape as they are deeply embedded in the culture. Although much of California is well suited to olives, and they’ve been here since Spanish missionaries arrived more than 200 years ago, they’ve always been a relatively minor crop. That’s slowly changing as more and more groves are being planted with a wider variety of olives, and growers are pressing ever greater quantities of quality oil. One thing that strikes me as sad however, is how many trees planted as ornamentals produce beautiful olives that just go to waste.

Maybe people think they’re too much trouble to pick, but given how delicious, how expensive, and how healthy good quality olives are, why not make use of some of those olives? To be edible, they must first be cured, as you know if you’ve ever tried to eat an olive from the tree (bitter does not begin to describe the taste). Curing is a process which can can take weeks, even months–but it isn’t complicated. I’m a novice when it comes to curing olives, and I didn’t pick the two pounds of olives for my trial run. Instead, I bought the freshly-picked, bio-dynamically grown coratina olives from the Knoll Farms people at the San Francisco Ferry Farmer’s Market. As with anything homemade, you can customize the olives to your taste, adding garlic, herbs, spices–whatever you like. There are several well-tested methods for curing olives–read about the method I’m using after the jump (and check back later for updates on how my olives are doing)…

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Coratina olives in salt brine, day one.

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BRINE-CURED CORATINA OLIVES, GREEK STYLE

After researching extensively on line, here is the method I’m using to cure my olives:

1. Buy or pick good quality olives. Those on the ground may be damaged and may not cure well.

2. Wash carefully.

3. Make a slit in each olive with a sharp paring knife.

4. Place in a crock or other non-reactive container, cover with a brine made of water with one tablespoon good quality salt added for every cup of water.

5. Put a plate or some other weight on top of the olives, so that all the olives are submerged in the brine. Cover with a clean towel and leave in a cool, dark place.

6. Stir occasionally, skim off any scum which forms on the top. Drain, rinse and re-brine the olives once a week. The brining process will probably take somewhere between four and seven weeks. The only way to tell when they are ready is to taste and see if they are to your liking.

7. Later on, I plan to add garlic, herbs and lemon zest.  Finally, when they are ready, rinse and enjoy.  They should keep in your fridge for weeks, and probably for months.

Click here for detailed information on curing olives–including three other methods.

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Coratina olives for sale, Knoll Farms stand, Ferry Building Farmer's Market, San Francisco

Olive grove, Thassos, Greece (photo via Wikiipedia)

Olives for sale in market, Tel Aviv, Israel (photo via Wikipedia)

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2 responses

  1. i have always made olives with whats called a mission in South Africa, a friend gave me 25kg of the nicest coratina olive i have ever seen. Here is my predicament I used the same lye mix and now realize they become quite soft is there anything i can do save them they are now in water after being in the lye for 28 hours . If you have any advice for me I would very much appreciate it kind regards Keith Southern Africa

  2. hi Keith. you probably over-lyed them, or they where too ripe ? 8gr lye per lit water for 24 hrs on coratina thats turned yellowish is good. try to bring it back with a shot of lemon salt.

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