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.
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.
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.
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