HOW TO PICKLE OLIVES

Olive trees have become very common in many Australian gardens. In South Australia where I used to live, olive trees grow wild and prolifically, and I miss not being able to collect and marvel at the range of shapes, sizes and tastes of olives I had for free. I used to enjoy looking at my collection of different jars of olives, collected from different trees and in different locations. I remember once finding a tiny, round olive in Botanic Park and after some research found that it was a descendant of one particular French variety introduced in very early times of Adelaide’s history.

A friend contacted me recently and suggested that I publish something on my blog about how to pickle olives. She is ready to pick hers and had looked through her collection of recipe books and was able to find many suggestions for how to marinade olives, but not how to pickle them.

There are many ways to preserve olives in all their stages of maturity – green, black and those that are turning colour from green to violet. Because I only have one small tree growing in a pot on my balcony, it is those in-between colour olives that I collect to preserve.

Water and salt seem to be a common ways to leach out the bitterness.

I place them into a crock pot after the leaching process and cover them in brine. As you can see I place a weight on top to keep them submerged and then cover them with a sturdy lid and leave them there until they are pickled.

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Green olives can be soaked whole in salt water or be cut with a sharp knife across on one side or cracked with a brick (called olive schiacciate).

Very ripe black olives can be dried outdoors in the shade and then packed in jars in salt. My father placed black olives on rock salt in shallow trays with a layer of open weave made of plastic (available from the hardware and used to prevent leaves from getting into gutters) suspended close to the bottom of the trays. The juice of the olives dribbles down to the bottom of the tray (to collect the juice, he used to place newspaper there, discard and replace it regularly) and eventually the olives dry out and they can be packed in oil, fennel seeds and oregano.

Some people use ash, others place green olives in water with caustic soda – the soda preserves the firmness, but it is not environmentally friendly and not a process I favour. This method is a common procedure used in commercial pickling and can change the colour of the olive from green to black.

I have one small tree on my balcony and the easiest thing I can do is collect my small crop when my olives are turning colour from green to pink and preserve them in brine till I am ready to use them.

PROCESS

Submerge the olives into fresh water in a large bowl or bucket. Change the water every day for a fortnight. I place a clean plate or mesh on top to keep the olives under the surface.

The olives are now ready to be placed in jars into a strong solution of brine.

Estimate how much brine you require (salt is cheap and maybe you will waste some brine or you can measure the last lot of water you pour off the olives).

Dissolve salt in boiling water, I use about one cup of coarse rock salt to 8 cups of water. (My father used to boil the water and keep on adding salt till an egg floated on top). Allow the water to cool.

Place olives in clean jars (with good lids). I scatter some fennel seeds in between the layers and then pour the brine over them until the olives are completely submerged. Once again that gutter wire comes in handy and I cut some to size to place on top of the olives to keep them submerged. Alternatively coiled branches of dry wild fennel stalks are also effective for this purpose.

Topping up the bottles with up to one centimeter of olive oil to seal and stop air getting to the olives is not thought to be essential, I do it. Screw on the lids and store for at least 6 months in a cool place.

When you are ready eat your olives take out as many as you want, drain them and taste them. If they are too salty, soak them in fresh water, till they are ready to dress.

Unlike the Greeks, I do not use vinegar to pickle or to dress olives. Unless I am pretending to be Moroccan rather than Italian, my olives are mostly dressed very simply with extra virgin olive oil, dry oregano, bay leaves, fennel seeds and chili flakes.

******This post  was published in Mar 23, 2009 and it us still one of my most popular posts.

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BUT

Having said that ‘Unlike the Greeks, I do not use vinegar to pickle or to dress olives’, check out what I have said in a post written in Jan 11, 2015

More about pickling olives

Various Ways to Pickle Olives

 

28 thoughts on “HOW TO PICKLE OLIVES”

  1. hi, i have just found an olive tree, and nobody seems to pick them, so i had a wonderful time picking them, my first time, i found your advise very helpful on how to pickle them, will give it a go….thanks..catherine (muscatel@live.com.au)

  2. You lucky thing. I do not know where you live but I miss Adelaide because of the wild bounty available – olives, figs, mushrooms and wild greens. I am slowly finding produce in Victoria, but never olives or figs. Although the wild olives I was able to pickle were small in size, they were very tasty.

    Good luck,
    Marisa

  3. I have four olive trees in my front yard, last year I didnt do anything with them, the birds got to them, this year I decided to try your advise. thank you .

  4. Dear Anonymous (person who asks about salt)
    I am not sure what kosher salt is. I know that it appears in many North American recipes but I am not familiar with it I Australia.
    Any course salt should work.

    In all of my recipes, I have refrained from calling salt, sea salt because even the unpleasant iodized salt is technically sea salt, as it is derived from seawater, refined and processed. Sea salt is too broad a term.

    I use one or more of the following types of salt for cooking:

    Unrefined salt or salt derived directly from a living ocean or sea. This is harvested through naturally allowing the sun and wind to evaporate ocean water, which has been moved into large open shallow evaporating pans. This type of unrefined salt still contains traces of other minerals, including iron, magnesium, calcium, potassium, manganese, zinc and iodine. It doesn’t have any additives; it just has less removed from it through purification.

    Rock salt is also formed by the evaporation of salty water (such as seawater or as found in dry lake beds, inland marginal seas, and enclosed bays and estuaries in arid regions of the world. I use this salt when boiling water to cook pasta. It is just habit really. This is what my relatives use for this purpose.

    I use crystal salt flakes on the table. This is produced naturally and derived from the brine sea beds or riverbeds or from below the earth.

  5. Yes,the olives can be green or violet or just turning black (but firm). If they are too ripe and beginning to crinkle they may break in the water, then brine process. I prefer to preserve ripe olives in salt (to leech) and then to pack them in oil (as described above).

  6. Ah Marisa, Thank you for the olive pickling process. I have just picked (12 litres of) olives off my backyard tree for the very first time. Usually they disappear before they start changing colour. I read that you live close to Queen Victoria Market. If you feel like foraging for olives and figs take a drive to Jacksons Creek Sunbury – about 20min on the Tullamrine Freeway – go past the airport, through Bulla and on to Sunbury. When I lived there, the public land known as The Nook (old swimming hole) had old olive trees and an old fig tree. It was one of Victoria’s original terraced vineyards and still has some of the bluestone terracing visible. I haven’t been there for about 10 years but think the trees are probably still there because of the heritage.
    Regards,
    Linda
    swsustainability@yahoo.com.au

  7. We are new to pickling olives, we have our black olives in jars in water for 4 days now and they look like they are changing colour, to green, why would that be? We in SA,

  8. Yes, my violet coloured olives (changing to black) always lose their colour. I do not know why this happens.
    The hard black olives (Spanish olives ) are pickled in caustic soda and keep their colour.

  9. Dear Marisa

    I was trawling the net to look for a recipe for pickling black olives…the wrinkled, dry variety…and I saw your blog. Hello. I remember your little black olives when you were in SA. I have been doing the same, very a lot of success, in the past six or seven years. I must admit my recipe uses vinegar. Never mind.

    I have had black, ripe Manzanillo olives in salt for 8 days, and mixed them daily. I am thinking of now drying them out, probably in the oven (low), and then adding all the nice things – fennel, garlic, etc. What do you think? Tony (your old work mate).

  10. HI Marisa, A few weeks ago I found green olives in the supermarket and have been following your method, soaking them and changing the water every day. It has almost been two weeks but a number of them have developed large brown splotches – like bruises. The flesh is still firm so I wonder if I should keep going with them or toss them away and start another batch. have you encountered this before?

    1. Without seeing the splotches I would say to keep going- this is natural but keep the olives submerged. The brown marks could be due to where the olives are bobbing up to the surface and are no longer covered by water. Plastic, gutter netting with a weight on top works well. The netting can also be used to keep olives submerged when you keep them in salted water.

      1. Thanks Marisa – The olives have definitely been kept submerged all the time but I’ll keep going. I don’t have that many – under a kilo so it’ll be no great drama if at the end of six months in brine they are olive zombies!

  11. Hi Marisa I came across this loaded tree of green olives and thought should try and preserve them using caustic solution as my parents did 40 years ago.Problem is I was not interested in preserving olive then and never asked my father what he did.Now its to late I have asked a couple old timers from way back how they did it both ways different.With mine I think I lacked the amount of caustic used I placed one lge table spoon per kilo of olives where it should have been one spoon per pound and one spoon for bucket.I started with 8 kilos of olives and placed nine spoons of caustic in for first 8 hours then replaced water every 4 hours for 4 days. They started to look great in colour nice bright lime green but then they got darker in colour by the fourth day.I randomly tasted them and the bitterness had gone so I did the brine salty water solution with fennel trick .Its the colour that has me puzzled is it because not enough caustic at the start.They seem to be firm in texture and taste ok Regards Tony Port Pirie SA 5540

    1. Tony,
      caustic soda is all about texture and totally destroys the colour – it produces olives that have a uniform colour with no colour variation. I do not know much about using caustic soda – I have kept away from it because it is a corrosive chemical and I have no idea how those Sicilian olives are treated to be that uniform bright green colour.
      Goodness knows what chemical they add as well as the caustic soda!

      Anyhow, I am raving on a bit, but it seems that you have really carefully monitored the pickling process and thay should be good. I do not know much about chemical reactions but maybe the salt counteracts the caustic soda. Our oldies didn’t die using caustic soda!!!

      You may know of those dull black coloured olives usually sold in jars and usually processed in Spain. I have also seen them in supermarkets, sometimes sold sliced and labelled as suitable for pizzas….. these have been processed with caustic soda and I think that they do not taste much like an olive at all. I do keep away from these!

      When buying black olives or green ones I look for colour variations in the mixture of olives I buy. For example black olives should have various shades of purple, brown and black.

      Tony, thanks for your comment. I am hoping that another reader may be able to continue this discussion.

      I know Port Pirie well. In my job in South Australia I used to visit High Schools (all sectors) and work with teachers and Port Pirie was one of the towns I used to visit. There have been many fine Principals and Teachers in those schools.
      Regards
      Marisa

  12. Hi Marisa,

    We are first time olive picklers and wading through numerous blogs and recommendations. We’ve harvested a bucket of mixed coloured olives and have rinsed them daily for 2 weeks. The past week we have added river rock salt to the soaking water. Finally, over the past couple of days the water has begun to turn purple at the end of the day and taste bitterish. The olives are still bitter but I think a little less so then at first.

    They look fresh and clean and are submerged under a plate. How long should we persevere with the rinsing cycles? I’ve read blogs that say from 4 days to 30!

    When you put the olives in jars for their final pickling, are they still a bit bitter or do you wait until they are entirely bitter free before bottling?

    Cheers

    Suzie

    PS Adelaide does have lovely street lined produce trees – Canberra also has some sneaky olive trees if you know where to look 😉

    1. From what you have described, I think that you are ready to pickle your olives now. They will still be bitter – otherwise there would be no need to pickle them. When you put them in jars make sure that they are submerged and top them with a thin layer of oil – this will help prevent mold. If the olives do not taste too bitter you may not need a long pickling process….. maybe a couple of months!
      It sound as if you have done really well, especially as first timers.
      Good luck with the rest of it.

  13. Hi Marisa,i am glad i found your site,as this is our 1st time we learning to preserve the olives.Our neighbours are so generous and from time to time give us lemons,grapes,tomatoes. But a few wks ago they gave us a small bucket of small olives. I’v managed to follow they simple instruction with my moditication.My husband enjoy them and soon bought huge box of biggg green olives. Here we go again!! I am Russian -we dont do olives,but i love to learn.Today i ‘ve learned a lot from your pg.I send my husband to get a good olive oil today,he went to Greek deli,approching all greek people for advise.They told him to get limestone powder.??And its available in the Bunnings hardware store.He said its used for concrete to be hardened. I refused to add that. I would think twice to experiment. What do you think?A bit worry about that..Thanks,Lana

    1. Hi Lana… a Russian pickling olives. How good is that! Well I make Borsch and I am Italian, so why not!
      I am no expert on olives, I just use salt because it is natural. I know that some Italians use Caustic soda but I would rather not use chemicals.I have not heard of limestone powder but maybe they mean lime? I think that this is more likely. I think that if you want to try Lime you will need to ask those Greek peole again how they use it; I do not think that I would use it in my olive pickling. Have a look at the comments that some of the readers have left on my different posta about olives and see what some of them say. Good luck.

  14. Hi Marisa…I’m Sicilian and emigrated to the U.S. while still very young. I remember my folks pickling olives and making olive d’bartrilla and olive scaciatta throughout my youth. Unfortunately, I live in the northeast U.S. and do not have ready access to olives, figs, or prickly pears; but we do have local distributors that bring these items to us during the harvest season. This year (just the last couple weeks) my father purchased a case of green olives and started soaking them to get them ready for pickling, so I’ve spent a lot of time searching the internet for instructions that mirror what we’re familiar with. Interestingly, your method mirrors ours almost identically. The major difference is in the seasoning. In my hometown, we added, fresh fennel (or dill), whole, unpeeled garlic cloves, and whole fresh hot peppers. It’ll take 2 1/2 to 3 months before they’re ready, but I anticipate them with glee! Some fresh bread, good cheese, and a nice glass of wine; what more does one need?!

  15. hi Marisa.. I left my olives (100kg more or less) in salted water with a layer of oil, but after a while there was mold on that layer of oil. Does that mean that the olives inside the water have gone bad? And if not how do I extract the odor from the olives? Do I just put them in clean water? Thanks in advance

    1. I wonder why the mold has happened. Perhaps there was not enough salt in the brine? Usually if there is mold on top you can just take it off and seal it with fresh oil.
      I do not know what you mean by odor. Do you mean a bad, musty smell? If this is the case I think that I would probably drain the olives, taste them to see that they are Ok and worth saving, put them in new salt water (brine) and cover them with a layer of oil again.
      100 kilos of olives are a lot to lose so I hope they will be OK. Best of luck.

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