Olive Questions

Lacking an Italian or Greek grandmother, I’ve got to crowdsource my olive curing questions. So, my dear Root Simple readers: have you cured olives? What method did you use and how did they turn out?

The Frantoio olive tree that I planted in the parkway a few years ago produced a bumper crop of olives this year. Last year every single olive hosted olive fruit fly maggots. This summer, to reduce the olive fruit fly population I put some torula yeast lures in a McPhail trap in the tree and removed any fruit that had any signs of infestation. I change out the yeast tabs every month. The strategy seems to have greatly reduced the infestation. I lost probably around a third of the olives but had more than enough un-maggoty olives to fill three half-gallon jars. Today I plan on sweeping up any olives on the ground and removing any remaining olives from the tree to, as much as possible, further knock the olive fruit fly population.

Contents of the McPhail trap.

I chose a brine method to cure the olives and followed the recipe in the informative UC Davis publication, Olives: Safe Methods for Home Pickling. With any luck I should have olives in three to six months. The Hunter Angler Gardener Cook blog suggests changing out the brine periodically, which leads to more questions for readers: do you change out your brine? How did you season the brine?

While my attempt at growing annual vegetables was a disaster this year, let me say how thankful Kelly and I are to have planted fruit trees ten years ago. The most successful: pomegranates, figs and olives.

If you’d like to try curing olives, but don’t have any trees of your own, you can always forage them. In the past month I’ve spotted fruiting olive trees in Hollywood on a side street adjacent to the Kaiser complex, in a parking lot on Sunset Boulevard, at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and on the streets of Phoenix, Arizona. Just don’t use the scarred fruit as that’s the sign of maggots.

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  1. Congrats, what a harvest! Check with Hank, he seems pretty responsive on twitter. I bet, someone of your online stature, you two could have a nice conversation and sort some things out.

  2. Italian, Greek or *Portuguese* grandma! We take our olives pretty seriously here.
    We water-cure our olives before brining to draw out the bitterness, changing the water every day or so. Putting a small cut in each olive, or lightly crushing them, or pouring boiling water over them briefly before curing will also shorten times and improve flavour.
    Once the olives go in the brine, we don’t change that.
    The “Mediterranean-style cracked olives” from the UC ANR catalog you mention are what I use, and very close to what I learned from my MIL. (I always check her recipes against an approved source, because her food is delicious but her food-safety standards are less than ideal.) Only differences are that I slice instead of cracking (less bruising), and cure for aprox. 2 weeks instead of one.

  3. I use the water method that I found on the internet many years ago. (No lye or wood ash.) Burke’s Backyard (online) has a similar way but I change the water daily for a longer length of time (sometimes a week). Once I had olives given to me that were really bitter so I rinsed them daily for nearly 10 days and used salted water to soak them. All in all they turn out delicious. People always seem surprised that they are my own.
    By the way, the ravens love my olive tree! grrr.

  4. We soak them in rainwater for 10 days, daily drain, rinse and refill. No cutting or bruising. Then 10% salt solution for storage with a good layer of Olive oil on top to prevent oxidation or mold. Doesn’t need refrigeration. Left for 6 months sometimes longer to cure fully. We found disposing of salty water an issue as we are not on town sewer system hence the plain water method.

    • Len, this is my first harvest so only have about fifty olives. Would prefer not to cut each olive for appearances only. Is it true you didn’t cut or slice the olives? Thanks (anybody else free feel to chime in)

    • No, we didn’t cut the olives. It’s just more work. The only value of cutting or bruising is to speed up the leaching of the bitter substances. If you are prepared to extend the aging process, nature will do it for you.

  5. I used a water method several years ago – worked out ok, flavor was “eh” but I didn’t do much to make them nifty, either.

    Last year, I went straight to a salt brine – now I don’t recall where I got the recipe – changed it out several times, then let them sit. They got moldy (on the surface of the brine, which kind of surprised me as I was sure I’d added enough salt) I re-brined them, being mostly kind of daring, and the same problem happened. I tasted one each time – nothing to write home about (rather bitter both times) then dumped the whole batch.

    I’m using arbequina/arbosana varieties, chosen because they’re dual purpose, supposedly. They seem to be mostly pit, though – perhaps because my trees are young? I’m not floored by the fruit and I’m questioning the shape of the trees (if they’re not going to be stellar producers, they have to earn their keep in my front yard by at least being good lookers)… the jury is out.

    • I should note that the variety I used several years ago was mission: much meatier than the arbosana/arbequina (at least so far).

    • In the initial phase of soaking to get rid of most of the bitterness you always get mold if you don’t change liquid being either water or brine. Brine lasts a bit longer before the mold sets in, plain water goes moldy in 24 hours. Just part of the process. It is important to keep changing the water until most of the bitterness is gone usually 10 days with water. Then you store it in brine and it takes a few months to rid itself of all the bitterness. Don’t rush the process.

    • I forgot one thing. When you have brined for storage don’t forget to add some Olive Oil. This forms a film on top of the brine and prevents the growth of mold. A layer about 5 mm thick is usually enough.

  6. I follow the salt brine recipe on the blog you mentioned for unripe green olives and change the brine each time it darkens to remove all the tannins from the olives. I’ve also done just salt on black or ripe olives, hanging them outside in a pillowcase under a rain proof cover with good success.
    I then store them in a salt brine/ apple cider vinegar solution with herbs and chilies for long term storage. I’m still new to curing olives but I’m happy with the results.

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