Cure Your Own Olives

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Posted in FoodCanning-and-preserves

Introduction: Cure Your Own Olives

It is/was that time of year again! Olives season. If you are fortunate enough to live in a region where they grow, you owe it to yourself to give curing your own a try. While there are many many methods and recipes you need not be intimidated. 

I've been curing olives for quite a few years and have run the range of lye cures, salt box cures and various brines. After a number of variations I find that I'm happiest just using salt and patience. It doesn't get more simple than this but it does take some effort in the beginning and a lot of patience as they cure. 

By not using more complicated cures I can wait to decide what to flavor them with and marinate them with herbs, oil and other things like garlic or peppers in small batches to suit whatever mood I'm in at the time. Though most often we simply eat them as they are from the basic brine. 

If you don't live near an olive area you can order raw olives online. They range broadly in price. 

I arrange ahead with an oil producer who is kind enough to sell me olives from his orchard. I get them for about $2 a pound. In past years even curing 4-6 pounds has left us buying olives by the end of the year. This year I'm putting up about 8 or 10 pounds. 

I try to plan ahead as best I can and understand that the olives I put up today will be the ones we are eating the following year. Once you get in the habit it's pretty simple and makes for a nice seasonal family tradition. 

Step 1: What You'll Need

Olives! This is the hard part. Your best bet is to either make friends with an olive grower or find them in a market. Some farmers markets will have them and occasionally groceries that carry more exotic and organic foods will carry them. You could also gather your own but I've found that most time I've gone this route the olives have been full of worms. As noted before you can also track them down online. 

Salt! Any non-iodized salt will do. I don't know that you couldn't use iodized salt but every person and recipe I have seen or talked to has warned against it. Easy enough to just get non-iodized. I like kosher salt. The important thing is that it dissolves well in water. So, something like a corse sea salt will be fine but take more time. It's up to you. 

Jars. Any glass jar you can seal will work. I used wide mouth jars in the past but eventually found I prefer glass milk bottles. The narrower neck makes it easier to keep any floating olives in the brine and we have a steady supply of them as we buy milk in glass bottles. You can use canning jars, apothecary jars or big decanters with bales on them. Whatever works for you. In my case I find a two pound bag of olives fits well in a 64oz/1.87 liter bottle. 

Water
A way to heat the water
A spoon 
An uncooked egg
A small sharp knife
A large bowl 


Step 2: The Brine

This is very simple. 

You heat some water and start adding salt. I've not bother to measure it in most cases as the ideal according the vast majority of sources is to add salt until an egg floats in the water. That would be an uncooked and unbroken egg. 

Gently heat a quart or so of water and add a half cup of salt. You'll need more than that but it's a good place to start. Once the salt dissolves see if the egg floats. If it doesn't, add more salt until it does. 

Once the egg floats you're brine is strong enough. Set it aside and let it cool while you crack the olives. 

Step 3: Cracking the Olives

After you wash your olives it's time to crack them. You can literally crack them by wrapping them in cloth and hitting them gently with a rubber mallet or you can do like I do and cut each one around lengthwise with a knife. It's time consuming but it does the job. 

Cracking the skin allows the brine to penetrate and cure the olives. You can cure without cracking but it takes a very long time with a simple brine cure like this. I have a batch I tried without cracking that's just now edible after almost two years in the brine. That's a very long time for a meal. Though, they are pretty and taste as good as any. 

When you score with a knife be very careful not to cut the pits. Fresh olives are bitter as it is and cutting the pit can release even more of the chemical that makes them so. 

Once your olives are cracked it's time to brine them. 

Step 4: Brine the Olives

Place your cracked olives in the container of your choice and simply pour in the brine you let cool while you were preparing the them. 

You want all the olives submerged to prevent spoiling. I turn mine regularly to keep them covered in brine. Maybe once a day at first. 

After you add the brine close the container and set them aside. Some will say to leave them in a cool place other refrigerate. I refrigerate mine, no doubt one of the reasons it takes them longer to cure but I feel safer and have yet to trust a cool pantry or cellar. 

Many recipes will call for changing the brine several times in the beginning. I have done this and have had better personal luck making a stronger brine and just leaving them be. 

I lost a couple batches early on from not making the brine strong enough. Disappointing but I learned from the experience.  

WARNING! 

If you encounter mold or slime or mushy olives, discard them. Botulism is a real danger in food preservation. I'd much rather lose a pound or two of olives than risk this kind of food poisoning. It can be lethal. 

Step 5: So When Are They Ready?

The best way to tell is first looking at them to see if they have lost the bright green color in favor of the darker more familiar "olive" color we see in the store bought variety. If they look about right you might just taste one. You will know immediately if it's ready as olives are incredibly bitter before they cure. This can take months with the simple brine method. Especially if you store them in the fridge. Many won't have the patience but it's worth the wait if you do. It's also possible/probable that temperatures below about 40f will prevent the curing process in the same way cold slows or prevents fermentation. Though, my olives do seem to pickle nicely even in the cold given enough time.  

For me the learning process of repeatedly tasting them as they cured was valuable. Each week they got less and less bitter until I felt like I could eat them. The texture changed as well and became more and more what I had expected in an olive. 

If you're olives are too salty you can soak them overnight in fresh water before you intend to eat them. This would also be a good time to marinate them in oil with herbs and other flavorings to taste. 

They'll keep for about a week after you take them out of the strong brine. 

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    45 Comments

    This is a very basic Instructable. There have been some very helpful comments so far and I would strongly encourage anyone who has worked with olives to post additional Instructables! Olive season is a long way off but I'm already thinking ahead about posting something more involved when the time comes. So, thanks again for everyone's helpful comments and please post so we can help others and encourage more people to try curing olives.

    I have tried to do my own brined batch of olives. It has been approx 2 months since bottling and I tasted it tonight. The olives are starting to taste really nice but I did notice a slightly acidic/fizzy feeling from biting into the olive. Is this bad? Or is this the olives still curing?

    My first batch of olives went mouldy when I tried to cure them from a very old recipe. A couple of years ago I did not soak in water for 2 weeks. So I recommend, putting a gash in each olive and immersing them in plain water and soaking for 2 weeks and change water every day.

    My first batch of olives went mouldy when I tried to cure them from a very old recipe. A couple of years ago I did not soak in water for 2 weeks. So I recommend, putting a gash in each olive and immersing them in plain water and soaking for 2 weeks and change water every day.

    This is my first year with olives I just picked the only ones I had off of my small tree. Some are green and some are very dark I would like to get the instructions on how to salt brine . So far this is what I have done . I heated salt water until a fresh egg floated in the water to let me know that the water was salty enough After washing my olives I put them in a pint jar and filled the jar up with the salty water Here is my first question. Was I supposed to leave an airspace in the jar or fill it all the way to the top? My second question is do I keep the olives in the same water for the remainder of the curing process or is it best to change the water on a regular basis, always using salt water? My third question is about the cracking of the olives. Before putting them into the salt water, I put my clean olives and a dishtowel and smacked them with a rubber mallet. Do I have to hit them hard enough to crack the skin or just to kind of soften and smush them? Any other advice for a first timer will be very appreciated. Please don't leave out even the tiniest detail. Thank you all so much!

    I cure my olives with lye.

    I hope someone can help be with an answer to this...

    We are trying to cure olives and are using a family recipe to water cure them. The recipe calls for fresh water soaking, olives fully submerged. water changed every day for as long as it takes for the olives to lose their bitterness. The olives have been in water for 20 days and they started to get mushy. Literally in one day they went from looking great to looking "bad" and I noticed there were many that seemed to have changed from firm to very soft overnight. My question are :
    Are the olives no longer good?
    Will they be safe to eat if we brine them?
    What did I do wrong?

    Any help would be fantastic!
    Thanks,
    Yogi

    1 reply

    I am sure there are more expert olive folks on here but I do know that once they go mushy they are not fit to eat. Mine have never lost their bitterness from fresh water alone, needing the lactofermentation in the brine to cure fully. The most anyone I spoke to has soaked them in fresh water is about ten days before brinaing. As far as I know you can just discard the mushy ones and brine the rest but others may know better.

    Lots and lots of ways to cure olives, even losing a batch helps you learn about it.

    I have about 700 olive trees.I am not an expert but i know some things about olives.
    The first and most important thing is that there are hundreds of different types of olive trees.Each olive type tastes different.Also the time of the harvest is very important,sooner you get greens that are bitter,later you get red or black that are 'swetter'.
    So it has to be cured in a different way.
    So the best thing you have to do is to know what olives you have,and cure them properly.
    You can smash or cut the olives(there a special equipment doing it that costs 5-10 euros).If you do that,you will speed the curing period very much.Especially for the green olives.But they wll not last for a long period.And the bad thing about cutting is that the olives are getting 'juicer'.Lot of people don't like that.
    If you use salted water when you 'de-sour' them,they will become more tight and they will get saltier taste.If you use plain water they will become juicy and they will have less saltier taste.The time for the curing depends on the type and the time of the harvest.Some needs only a week with daily change of water some may need 3 months.Always try and taste them.You will know when they are ready.
    You can preserve them in olive oil,in vinegar or salted water with almost any seasoning you like.Only remember if you try vinegar or salted water,add a little olive oil in the top,because they will rot elseway those that react with the air.
    The easiest way for me for making olives is the burlap sack way.
    You get some black olives,you put them in a burlap sack and add salt.You shake the burlap,and you hang it with a bowl underneath it for 2-4 weeks.You remove the salt,put them in a bowl,add some olive oil an oregano and they are ready.
    Last thing,if you don't own an olive tree and you buy the olives try to buy biological or olives that are from high altitute.The reason is that (al least in Medditeranean)there is a little fly that nest its eggs inside the olives.So the olive tree's farmers spray the olives.The most pesticides for killing those flys are very toxic if there is not enough time from the spray till the harvest time.

    4 replies

    Thank you for an information and description. I am interested in that equipment you mention for smashing or cutting olives, I can't any in google, would you specify?
    warm wishes
    Ieva

    Do you currently have any olives this year October 2013, and do you sell them, ship them to U.S.? May be a little late, but I'm interested any time of year. Great info, I will pass it on to my friends in olive curing to help them simplify. I personally love the salt curing and your burlap curing, I just love the wrinkled (dry salt-cured) black olives with herbs, especially Herbes de Provence and olive oil. Picholine are also delicious. Thanks so much.

    No unfortunately right now i don't have any left.It is too early,olive harvest time starts in november and later,so it is not possible for any guy to have fresh olives in Octomber.If anyone have, they will be last year's,and olives usually last up to a year(there are some types of olives that can last up to two years or a litlle more sometimes but i don't have any of them).So usually after a year most olives begin to rot.Therefore it won't be wise to buy last year's olives a month before the fresh harvest.
    This year i will not have a lot of olives(olive trees usually have production every 2 years) and i have never shipped any food in the US,so i don't know if it is possible(to ship raw foods outside the country and how it is done).But if you are interested i can ask around to see if anyone i know can do this.Price here is about 2.5 euro per kilo raw and uncured,and 4-6.5 euro per kilo for the cured

    I understand. Here we have had very bad olive harvest, usually done by now but there were bad flies so not many had good harvest. I am looking for all kinds of olives, raw uncured so I would truly appreciate your asking around in time for the new harvest. If available, I will also contact others for a larger order if possible. I salt cured Sevillano and Spanish Arbequena from my own small tree last year and we have a lot of Mission Olives around, but they weren't great either. I do know some people have olives in the January/February here, but supply is very limited. Thank you so very much for getting back to me my friend, I really appreciate it. My favorite is Picholine, but I haven't cured that kind yet, we love all kinds. I look forward to hearing from you when you have news. Thank you so much.

    I have been making olives for over 20 years and we always keep them on the counter, we soak them in plain water first and rinse many times a day then we add the salt, the salt will keep you from getting botulism, salt is a natural preservative. Boltulism mainly is root borne bacteria, more like raw garlic not olives, Make sure you put a little vinegar or lemons when you store it in the fridge.
    Yes Tariast, I don't know about this recipe but when I am finished I put these olives in jars with oil, vinegar inions and several seasonings like oregano and celery, salt and pepper. I have never been afraid of bolutlism after 20 years I don't think that really is a problem especially since we made them for many years in our hot kitchen in late summer with no A/C

    2 replies

    Hey thanks! That's really helpful.

    I recently moved the jars from the fridge to a cool pantry that was predictably not as cold at the refrigerator and it seems to have allowed the olives to cure a bit more and "better". The warming up seems to have allowed them to lose the last of their bitterness and so far I'm not sick and they show no signs of going off.

    When you are curing you shouldn't do so in a fridge. The temperature in a fridge slows down all chemical reactions, including the ones you want to happen in curing!

    Hello
    First of all, i'm happy to hear of people making olives ( that are not in close reach)
    I live in a place ( Israel) surrounded by olive trees / for the past few years i;ve been making big batches of Olives..
    I have a few things that might make your olives safer,tastier and faster..
    First of all, the common way in which we make them is to break them ( or cut them) an then soak them in water for a few days, changing the water freaquently ( at least twice a day) - you will see why, the water changes its color and smells olivy..
    second of all , the jar that you put the olives in, i pour boiling water in befor putting the well rinsed olives in. following by putting layers of olives- lemon/garlic cloves/ black pepper, whatever you wish.. and more olives.. layering the stuff in between..
    Third and most important..
    after putting the olives in their salty water, most important is to pour oil above all of it, to prevent oxygen entering inside, this makes everythign safer ..

    what else with this will be,not to fill the bottle... opening the bottle after about a week - there will be a lot of pressure inside waiting to burst..
    i do'nt refrigirate my olives.. i leave them standing for about two monthes and then they are ready ..

    Good luck!

    2 replies

    what's the problem with oxygen ,what it will not be safer about ?

    Oxygen is one of the major causes of deterioration in foodstuffs. In any sort of bottling it is essential to avoid the product coming into contact with oxygen in the air.

    Oxygen from the air dissolves into the surface of water or similar liquids, but not much into oil, so a layer of oil protects from this.

    I'd have to rasie a caution about using milk bottles. Even glass ones are extremely hard to get clean to the standard suitable for bottling - a domestic dishwasher won't do, and standard boiling in water sterilising needs to be followed more stringently than most do - 20 minutes held under boiling water is absolutely required.