Olives have been one of the Mediterranean region's most important crops since earliest antiquity, grown throughout the region as a food or for pressing into oil. Ironically, olives are inedible when freshly harvested due to an extremely bitter compound they secrete. This can be removed by several methods, from simple soaking, to baths in powerful alkaline solutions. Most preparation techniques can be used by home enthusiasts, but the soaking method is the least complicated.
Things You'll Need
- Cutting board
- Chef's knife or paring knife
- Plastic food storage container
- Pickling salt
- Wine vinegar
- Garlic, herbs or other seasonings (optional)
- Mixing bowl
Preparing and Soaking the Olives
Sort the olives, discarding any that are bruised, damaged or discolored. Rinse them under cold running water.
Place the olives on a cutting board, a few at a time. To make cracked green olives, lay a chef's knife flat over three or four olives and strike it sharply with your fist. For Kalamata-style olives, use a paring knife to make two or three slits in each olive.
Scoop the prepared olives into a bowl, and repeat until the olives have all been cracked or slit. Set aside.
Fill a plastic food storage container about 2/3 full of olives. Cover them with cold water, to a depth of several inches. Cover them with a plate, to ensure that all of the olives remain submerged. Refrigerate the olives overnight.
Drain the olives, and cover them once more with fresh, cold water. Return them to the refrigerator. Repeat daily, soaking green olives for six to 10 days and ripe black olives for up to 20 days. Taste periodically, until the bitterness is diminished to an acceptable level.
Finishing the Olives
Prepare the finishing brine by combining 1/2 pound of pickling salt and 2 quarts of cool water in a large mixing bowl, and stirring until the salt is dissolved. For cracked green olives add 1 cup of white wine vinegar, or for black Kalamata-style olives add 2 cups of red wine vinegar.
Drain the olives, and return them to their storage container. Pour in enough brine to cover the olives completely. Seal tightly and return the olives to the refrigerator. Add any extra flavorings, such as garlic or herbs, at this point.
Store the olives in their brine for up to a year. Cracked green olives are ready to eat in four or five days, black Kalamata-style olives after about 25 to 30 days.
Tips & Warnings
- For a milder flavor, transfer the finished olives to a canning jar or other container, and soak them in cool water for a day or two. Drain, and replace it with one part olive brine to four parts water.
- California Rare Fruit Growers: Olive
- "On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen"; Harold S. McGee; 2004
- Hunter Olive Association: Table Olives
- University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources; "Olives: Safe Methods for Home Pickling"; Sylvia Yada et al.; 2007
- Photo Credit PhotoObjects.net/PhotoObjects.net/Getty Images
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