So I stumbled on a post at Nourished Kitchen, on curing olives at home, and I perked up immediately. I love olives! You can get them raw and do it yourself at home? Wow, who knew. What’s a raw olive taste like? Are they good raw? I’ve never had one that way. Ooh, this will be fun. I ordered a box of raw olives from Chaffin Family Orchards and got started.
Yeah, so raw olives are so awful there’s a reason you never see them sold raw in stores. They are ungodly bitter, and that bitterness has to be removed before any other flavor components come through. The main ways to remove the bitterness are curing with water, curing with salt, and curing with lye. I chose the easy, though lengthy, water curing method for my first try.
It’s pretty simple. You crack each olive by crushing it under a rolling pin, soak the cracked olives in plain water, changing the water every day, until their bitterness is reduced to your taste. Then you put them in salt water, with flavorings if you like, and you’re done.
Rather than provide a recipe here, I’ve got links to the different sources I consulted. You can look through them and decide whether you want to take on this project or not! I’ll just speak generally about my experience.
Some instructions I saw said change the water every day for a week or ten days. Ha! It took eight weeks for my olives to be tolerable. Until then they remained horrifically bitter.
Jenny’s blogs on home-curing olives also say to just lightly crack the olive, but not down to the pit. Others say make sure they’re cracked down to the pit. I gave each olive a firm press under the rolling pin, making sure some of the white juice squirted out. I figure that constituted “cracked.” But it was hard to control and many of the olives cracked down to the pit. I just threw them all in the water.
NOTE OF WARNING: The white juice that squirts out of the olives oxidizes, turning dark. This isn’t that big a deal–it washed off my hands, cutting board, and rolling pin just fine–except when it comes to your clothes. I cracked the olives over two nights, and ruined two shirts in the process. They were blue and teal colored tee shirts and the white juice just looked like wetness, but as it oxidized it turned dark and dried, and the dark spatters are very visible. So wear a smock, apron, or old shirt you don’t care about.
I found out over weeks that those that were cracked down to the pit became tolerably edible much faster than those that weren’t cracked to the pit. In fact there was such a difference in bitterness and it was taking so much longer for them to be ready than the recipes were saying, that several weeks in I dumped all the olives out and sorted them. Fully cracked to the pit went back in the water, and I made sure the rest got cracked through before putting them back. Then it was a couple more weeks before all were ready to go. So–I suggest you crack them all to the pit the first time. Saves a lot of trouble.
I put my 20lbs of olives in three gallon jars for the eight weeks of water soaking. I definitely got tired of them taking up so much counter space in my tiny kitchen.
Some instructions said change the water once a day; others said twice a day. I changed the water twice a day for the first couple of weeks, and then once a day for six more weeks. I could see there was much less oiliness and color coming off them after the first two weeks, so I figured once/day was fine at that point.
Finally, finally! it was time to put the olives in brine and season them. I transferred them all to 12 wide-mouth quart jars and tried a variety of seasonings. Because my favorite olives in the world are stuffed with citrus peel, I knew I wanted to use orange peel for a lot of them. I did two jars of Jenny’s Morroccan style, two with just orange peel and orange juice, two with just lemon peel and lemon juice, two with orange peel and coriander seeds, two jars with herbs de provence and orange peel, and two jars with rosemary, thyme, and orange peel.
It only took a few days in the salt brine for them to start tasting delicious! The orange-coriander are my favorites, though they are all good.
Some questions I asked Jenny of Nourished Kitchen, and her answers:
1. How long do they need to be in the brine until they’re ready?
This can be as little as six weeks or as long as six months depending on the level of bitterness you like.
2. After covering “loosely” with the lid, at any point do you tighten it?
I do when they’ve reached the flavor I like, and transfer them to the fridge.
3. Can you store them at room temp? Lid loose or tight? Or must they be refrigerated?
You can definitely store them at room temperature. I store with a loose lid.
4. What’s the life expectancy at room temp? In fridge?
I don’t know. They’ve never gone bad on me. I’d venture they’d be 1+ years.
5. How can I prevent mold? (All of my jars formed mold in just a few days; I scooped it out like you said but would prefer to prevent)
Mold is hard to prevent on the olives – one thing that can help is by acidifying the brine with 1/2 cup raw cider vinegar.
(Note from Jill: I did one jar with vinegar, per Jenny’s “Moroccan Olives” recipe, and didn’t care so much for the vinegaryness. I liked my other flavors better. I found that once I refrigerated the olives, that seemed to retard mold. Another option might be to float some olive oil on top of the water.)
If the idea of doing this at home turns you on, check out these articles, order yourself some raw olives, and get curing!