Wednesday, May 14, 2008
There are 5 small olive trees in our garden; when we moved here 2 yrs ago they were laden with olives, tempting and beautiful. I've been an olive scoffer since we stayed in Italy with my aunt when I was a child; somehow the taste of thick coffee, salty sweet proscutio, and rich olives stayed long after our holiday. Having our own olive trees is a delight :) What to do with them is another matter, with which I've experimented over the last few years. I'm still working on it ;) In the meantime here is a little WIP update on our olive preserving journey : From what I can read, preserving olives involves 2 steps - curing to remove the bitter oleuropein, then preserving for either a short or a longer period. Longer storage requires more precautions. Because olives are a low acidity food they are susceptible to bacterial contamination, so each step of preserving needs to be mindful of this. I'm not so keen on a dose of botulism. The first time we cured and preserved our olives I was blithley unaware of botulism risks, thinking that olives have been preserved for thousands of years in the mediterranean, so it can't be unsafe. So I cured them (mostly black) in brine, changing the brine daily for about 2 weeks, and allowing the salted water to go through the greywater onto our garden (yuck). Then bottling in a heavier brine solution with a layer of olive oil on top to keep the olives submerged. In the cupboard for a few months, and they were good; after 6 months they were darn good :D There was a slimey kind of layer on the top that creeped me out a bit, but I asked my Italian aunt and she said that was normal and it didn't harm you. The scientist in me says a Marg Simpson hmmmmm (I'd like to know what that slimey stuff is please), but they were delicious, no-one got sick, and obviously the slimey layer isn't uncommon. (Is this a head in the sand moment?) Last season there weren't many olives and they were shrivelled and dry so I composted them. Later someone said you can irrigate the trees prior to harvest to plump them up; I'll save that info for future drought years. This season the trees didn't flower at all; possibly due to extended drought, or maybe the serious haircut I gave them - they were covered in sooty mould and scale so I cut out a lot of growth from the middles to thin them and let the airflow through. Anyway they didn't flower last spring and there was no fruit this Easter. But friends have olive trees so we raided their orchard and picked a huge bucket recently. We didn't pick as many as I'd have liked b/c their horse kept threatening to trample the children; what a dilemma, to pick olives or let a large horse stand on your babies. This is what we've done this year : Cracked Green Marinated Olives Preserved Mixed Colour Olives Previously I had tried : Salted olives Brine cured olives This link is one of the most useful I've found http://anrcatalog.ucdavis.edu/pdf/8267.pdf It explains the different curing methods - water, brine, lye and dry salting. And the preserving methods - brine or oil for short term, and very strong brine, freezing, drying or pressure canning for longer storage. There are many other links and recipes around the net that use quite cursory curing and preserving methods, which don't sit so comfortably with me after reading about botulism. But everyone has a different level of risk assessment. We have begun eating this season's olives, and they are very good. So here is this year's recipe that we will use again : ~Cracked Green & Mixed Colour Olives~ green-ripe olives lemons cooking salt good quality white vinegar clean water 1. Use a full beer bottle to squash each olive on a cutting board, so ithe flesh is cracked open. This is far easier than making 3 slits in each olive, as we did the first time. 2. As you crack the olives, place them in a bucket of cool water, with a sliced lemon (or several) in it. When you are finished, drain the water, remove the lemons, and cover the olives with cool clean water. 3. Place a plate or something similar on top of the olives to hold them under the water surface. Drain the water and replace with clean cool water every morning and evening for around 12 days. Taste them towards the end of this time to check the bitterness and when it is mostly gone, it's time to move to the next step. The preserving brine will continue to remove bitterness, so it's ok for them to still taste a little icky. 4. Drain the olives and place in a large shallow dish. Sprinkle liberally with salt and leave, covered, for 24 hours. 5. Wash and drain the olives again and place in clean container. Cover with vinegar and place a plate or similar on top to submerge them. Leave for 24 hours. 6. Drain the olives and pack into sterilised jars. Pour over a strong brine, made from 4 cups salt dissolved in 4.5L water, leaving some space at the top to pour on a layer of olive oil. The olive oil should be about 1.5cm thick and should help keep the olives submerged. These will keep for a long time; I'm not sure how long as we eat our olives too fast! 7. Seal the jars and store in a dark place for at least 6wks. Place in the fridge after opening. The olives will be very salty in this heavy brine, so I like to drain and soak the olives in warm water, then marinate them with olive oil, citrus zest and fresh herbs.