Last year I tried three different olive curing methods – lye, brine and brine and bruise, and ever keen to experiment, I’m trying four different methods this year to discover the table olive taste that I like best.
First, a few notes on last year’s olives. I’ve decided, after trying it quite a few years in a row, that I’m not a big fan of lye-curing. This seems to be the most popular method in Puglia as it’s both quick and effective. It works so effectively though that I can’t really taste the olives, although it does smell wonderfully Christmassy.
To be honest, I didn’t really see a great difference in the two brine-curing methods. They both tasted good and kept us in olives for the year, but they were, perhaps a little too salty for my taste (even after several water changes). It’s quite a balancing act between getting rid of the bitter oleuripenals, to reveal the taste of the fruit and not making them taste too salty.
Now, onto this year’s quest to find the perfect table olive, choosing several methods from the multitude, which have developed in olive-growing nations around the world.
Dry cure method
This is one of the more basic curing methods and just involves covering the olives in rock salt. Traditionally this would have been done in a hessian sack, basket or wooden box in which you cover the olives in salt and wait for the bitter juices to leak out. By shaking daily and adding a little more salt every few days the olives should be cured in around three or four weeks.
I’ve tried the same method in a glass jar. Alternate layers of olives with course rock salt and shake every day for three weeks, adding more salt to absorb juices. Once cured sufficiently, rinse, add warm water and 4 tablespoons of red wine vinegar to cover and top with a layer of olive oil. They will be ready to eat after 4-5 days. You can also store these in olive oil after you have rinsed the salt off after leaving them to drain until they are dry, so maybe I’ll try both methods when they are ready.
Water method 1
Cleaned olives are placed in a non-reactive bowl (terracotta, ceramic or glass) and covered in water. The water is changed daily for 10 days before the olives are jarred and covered in a brine solution (1 part salt to 10 parts water) until they are cured of their bitterness. As I glaze over at the mere mention of numbers, I used the floating egg method again (place your olives in jars and cover with sufficient water to allow you to pop something over them to ensure they remain submerged, strain the olives but keep adding salt to the water until an egg will float in it). I’ll change the brine solution when I remember (hopefully once a month) until they are ready.
Water method 2
Make a vertical cut or two down each olive using a sharp knife or prick them with a cocktail stick and place them in a brine solution (see above). Cover the bowl, ensuring that the olives are submerged.
Shake the bowl daily, changing the brine solution once a week. Start tasting olives for bitterness after week three but continue until necessary.
Once they taste good, remove the olives from the old brine. Make a new batch of brine, and fill jars with it. Put the olives in the jars, and top off the jars with four tablespoons red wine vinegar, and a tablespoon or so of olive oil. They should keep for a very long time if properly stored.
As a bonus, I’m hoping to use some of this solution to make dirty martinis with over the festive season. ☺
Water method 3
I’m using Fasole (or Pasole as they are known locally) olives for this method as they are little sweeter than other varieties so should cure slightly quicker (one month, rather than three) For every kilo of black olives use around 30g of salt. Place the olives in a container with the salt, and cover them with water and some sprigs of wild fennel and blueberry. Cover the pan (ensuring the olives are submerged) for one-three months changing the water every fortnight.
Luckily for impatient olive-loving souls, such as myself, Puglia is famous for two even sweeter varieties of olives, which can be eaten without curing. Both Nolche, which are ready in September and Amelie, which are ready in October are sautéed, either on their own with salt or with any combination of garlic, chilli and chopped tomatoes. The salt helps rid the olives of any bitterness, but I prefer to fry them with garlic and tomatoes as well.
Just heat some olive oil in pan, add olives, salt and whatever else you wish and fry until the olives soften. These really are a taste sensation so if you ever get a chance to try some then I heartily recommend that you do. Each bite involves a burst of bitter/sweetness, which is quite heavenly. A friend told me you can even buy these olives in trendy London markets nowadays, so keep you eyes peeled for fresh sweet olives for sale.
So there you have my tale of bringing olives to the table. I’ll keep you posted on successes and failures. In the meantime, we’ll be starting our olive harvest to make oil shortly as the olive mills open for the first time next week, so think nice weather thoughts everyone.
* An important note for all methods, which require that olives be submerged in liquid, place a weight on top of the olives to ensure that all the olives are submerged. I use plates when they are in a bowl and cut the bottoms off ricotta moulds to keep the under water when in jars.