Remember how I bought ten pounds of olives back in September – and I wasn’t really sure what to do with them or how they would turn out? Well. I’m glad to report that the water-cured olives have so far turned out great, and the brine-fermented olives seem to be doing their thing. Here is the blow-by-blow on what I think about each:
Besides lye-curing, the quickest way to cure olives is by water curing them. This involves breaching the flesh of the fruit and then soaking them in water for up to a month, changing the water each day. This leaches the bitter oleuropein out of the fruit, and once that is done, you can cure the olives in brine.
One way that you prep olives for water-curing is by cracking them with a back of a spoon – you don’t want the pits to come loose, by you do want to create a split in the fruit so the water can do its work. We transferred these olives from the water to a herb-brine at the end of October and started eating these about two weeks ago. Here is what my cracked olives look like now, two and a half months after I started the process:
By far, this is the quickest fermenting method as the smashed olive allows for a lot of “flushing” to happen in the water cure. Also, these olives pick up the brine flavours quickly (after four days in the brine they were edible). On the downside, the smashed olives seem to be degrading relatively quickly and they are softer on the inside than I would like. We have eaten close to half of the jar, so that’s fine – and I’m thinking of turning the rest into tapenade.
Everything about these olives is the same as above except instead of smashing them, I took a paring knife to each one and made an incision. They look much nicer as a result, and they have held their firmness since being transferred into the fridge. They are certainly more bitter than the smashed ones, but not unbearably so and I think the slight bitter taste gives them a bit of kick. This combination with the brine makes for a very edible table olive, and truly – these can be ready in as little as six weeks. I just broke these open for eating today though and I do think the extra month in brine really makes a positive difference.
These olives have also been kicking around in the curing process for two and a half months, but unlike the water-cured olives they still about about two and a half months to go. Brine fermenting leaves the olives intact, but takes much longer to cure them. You can see from the picture that the olives look a lot more “whole” and less degraded than the split examples above (the photo at the head of this article is of the brine-fermented olives you see on the plate here. Although I know these are far from ready, I did brave a taste today – I couldn’t help myself really since I was photographing after all. And though these are still on the not-as-edible side of bitter – they are actually ok, as in they don’t make you gag from the astringency. I definitely want to leave them until the new year – but by far these had the strongest flavouring from the brine, plus they are as firm as ripe olives can be with no degradation of the flesh at all. I don’t think these olives fermented as actively as I would have liked in the beginning, but still they seem to be well on their way to becoming an edible thing.
Overall I am quite pleased with the olive experiment so far and have no problem serving the water-cured olives over the holiday season. That means that when olives come into Vancouver in early fall, there is plenty of time to cure some up for Christmas gifts with the water-curing method. Though cutting is more work, I think that I prefer this over the smashed olives because it leaves the fruit with better consistency over time – but if you don’t mind a softer olive, or want olives for tapenade, the smashed route leaves them less bitter.
I’m really looking forward to the brine-fermented olives in the new year – and I highly recommend trying this out when you have fresh olives available. I can easily see doing double the amount next year and putting together some Christmas gifts of small jars of olives to give away with the other seasonal treats.