Conscious Food Choices

For the love of delicious healthy food…

Home Cured Olives – Sonoma County Style…

Home Cured Olives

Well… let’s just say it’s been a long time, but I have been keeping busy.

October is when the olive harvest begins in Suryalila and it is one of my favorite times of year to be there. And so when this October rolled around and I was far away from Spain, I thought I’d better see what California has to offer…

As some of you know, I have been making a slow transition this year from New York City back to Northern California, which is where I grew up. I really never intended to move back, but my father is losing his eyesight to macular degeneration, so I have been bouncing back and forth all year between my dad and his lovely 3 acre property in Northern Sonoma County, and my boyfriend Hannes in our home in Harlem, NY.  To say this is a culture shock would not do it justice, but actually, I am getting used to it and am now enjoying the radical change of pace, in both directions.Hand Picking Olives Wendy and Horse

Needless to say, Sonoma County is an exceptionally beautiful place to live, and I am beginning to develop a real appreciation for the year-round farmer’s markets and the endless opportunities to grow, forage, brew, and preserve the bounties of the county.  My father’s property is flanked by wineries on both sides; the road we live on was once called Oat Valley Road, and the next town West of us is called Hopland, so clearly, brewing and fermenting are in the air here. When you drive through Hopland, you see hops growing along side the road, and driving along Highway 101 in the Fall, the air is thick with the smell of must from fermenting grapes… it’s intoxicating!
olives on the vine 750 pounds of olives!

And… what is lining all these the vineyards? Olive trees!

So about a month ago, I got myself invited to an olive picking party at a neighbor’s magnificent horse ranch, and our small crew of 14 spent most of a day picking 750 pounds of manzanilla olives for cold pressed olive oil. It was seriously fun, hard work. And guess how much olive oil that amount of olives will yield? …. only 13 gallons! I will never grumble about the price of good olive oil again.

Later that week I went back and hand-picked another 7 gallons of the green and medium ripe olives from the remaining trees. I looked for the greener olives for eating. I couldn’t wait to cure them!

The olive curing process that I know is a water-cured process which I learned in Suryalila a few years ago from our neighbor there, Jose. What the Andalusians do is to crack or score each olive by hand, then soak for 7 to 10 days in water to remove the bitterness, and finally brine them in salt water infused with garlic, peppers and the herbs which grow wild in the area. I thought I would do the same, using locally grown and harvested Sonoma County ingredients, which included wild fennel foraged from the side of the road, California bay laurel leaves, marjoram and wild cilantro from my dad’s yard, and bright peppers and fresh garlic from the Cloverdale Farmer’s Market. Bounty of the County indeed!

Home Cured Olives  – 7.5 Gallon Yield

  • 7 gallons fresh green and medium ripe  olives
  • 3 gallons water
  • 2# celtic grey sea salt
  • 1/4 c whole peppercorns, lightly cracked
  • 3 cups unpeeled garlic cloves
  • 2# fresh red and green peppers, sliced
  • 3 T whole coriander seeds
  • 10 -15 fresh marjoram sprigs
  • 10 – 20 fresh bay leaves
  • 16 stalks fresh fennel, in 4-5″ pieces
  • 36 oz white wine vinegar
  • 750 ml olive oil (to pour over tops of olives)

 

Sort the Olives:

Sorting Olives by Ripeness

Sort olives, seperating the very greenest ones to be cracked, the medium to be scored with a knive, and the very ripest ones to be kept whole and salt cured.

  1. Cracked Green: With a mallet, gently crack each green olive on one side, just so it splits open. Try not to smash it too much here – you are are just looking to crack it open.
  2. Medium Ripe: With a sharp paring knive, score each medium-ripe olive in 3 or 4 places, so that the brine will penetrate down to the pit. Again, try to do without squashing or bruising the olives too much.
  3. Dark Black:  The very dark, ripe olives I kept whole and covered in course salt and stored away in a cardboard box in a dark closet to “sun dry” them, ironically. This is a first time for me with this process so more later as I figure out what I am doing here…

Soak the Olives:

Using at least three 5 gallon buckets, cover the olives completely in cold filtered water and float a plate with a small weight on top to keep the top layer of olives submerged. Let soak in a cool dark place for a week to 10 days, draining and changing the water at least once a day. This helps to remove some of the bitterness of the olives, and the salt brining will complete the process. You will see that the cracked green olives, which have more surface area exposed, will de-bitter quickly, turning from bright green to a drab…well, “olive ” color. You should be able to almost eat one of these without grimmacing and 7 -10  days should do the trick.Homemade Olives on the Countertop

The less ripe end of the scored olives might take a few days longer – you will see them also change color. I pulled all of this batch after 7 days because of my own time restrictuions (I needed to get to NYC: Sometimes the slow food movement clashes with my jet-set lifestyle…) This will just mean a longer cure in the salt brine… it can take sometimse up to a couple of months for the bitterness to leave the olives this way.

If you soak the olives in water longer – 10 days to 2 weeks even –  you can reduce the brine curing time (and the entire curing time) to only a few weeks. These olives will tend to be less bitter, but sometimes a bit softer than olives cured using the longer brining method.

 

Make the Brine:

A day before your olives are ready to escape their water bath, heat one gallon of water, add salt, and stir to disolve. Add remaining two gallons of cold filtered water.  With your mallet, lighly crack the garlic cloves, and let sit out for at least 10 minutes to oxidize**, and then drop with peppers, herbs and spices into your bucket.  In Spain, Jose lightly muddled the peppers with the garlic and herbs with a large mortar and pestle before adding to the salt brine, but I decided not to do this on this round. Too messy!

Home Cured OlivesAdd 2/3 of the white vinegar and taste. I make half the olives at this dilution, and then add the remaining vinegar to the other half of the batch, making some of the olives a bit more vinegary. (Alternately, you can leave the vinegar out. Tradicionally the Andalucian olives are made only with salt).

Gently fill 15 half gallon mason jars with olives, nearly to the top. Pour brine evenly over olives, leaving 1/4 to 1/2 inch below the lip. Tap lightly on the counter to release bubbles, then top with olive oil to the rim.  Carefully screw the jar lids on, leaving as little air in as possible.

Store olives in cool dark place, or (ideally) refrigerate. They are ready when they have lost their bitterness, and this can take from 3 weeks to 3 months, depending on the variety and ripeness of your olives, the length of your soak time, etc. You can try the cracked green olives in 3 weeks, but the scored olive will likely take a month or two to finish. To taste, fish out an olive or two, and then top off the jar with a splash more olive oil, keeping the olive submerged under the oil and as air-free as possible.

Buen Provencho!

* Using Celtic Grey Salt: I know… it’s crazy to spend $4 a pound on salt right? Wrong. Suck it up and spend the money on high quality, high mineral salt whenever you can. Using good salt to naturally preserve and cure olives is a no-brainer and makes them even more special… I consider them medicinal!

** Releasing Allicin: When crushed, raw garlic produces a powerful antibacterial, antifungal and antiviral sulphuric (stinky) compound called allicin.  Within 5 minutes of being crushed and exposed to air, garlic explodes into a variety of sulfur-containing compounds which are supposed to be very good for the heart, lowering blood pressure and releasing more oxygen to the blood stream (always a good thing!).  Studies have also shown that raw garlic a powerful anticarcinogenic, internally halting the growth of cancerous tumours in the body.

***What’s in an Olive? 

Raw cured olives are chock full of healthy, monounsaturated fat and loaded with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory nutrients. Green olives are higher in oleic acid, which has been shown to decrease blood pressure, while black olives contain more iron and vitamin E. Both also contain serotonin, the hormone which triggers your body to feel satisfied… how good is that? Eat your olives!

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December 7, 2014 Posted by | Fresh, Labors of Love, Low Carb Recipes, Raw Food Recipes, Recipes, Sugar Free/Unrefined Recipes, Vegan Recipes, Wild & Foraged | , , , , , , | Leave a comment