Brine-curing Your Own Olives

I decided that 2015 was the year to home-cure olives. I visited my parent’s home in Almaden Valley in south Santa Clara County. Their neighbor has a large Mission olive tree that generously drapes over the fence. Olives cannot be consumed without curing. All olives contain oleuropein, a glucoside compound, that tastes very bitter. You have to cure them using water, brine, salt, or lye to remove the bitter compound.

Harvest the olives

Step 1 is to harvest the olives. When curing your own olives (NOT using lye), you can harvest the olives at any stage. Olive ripen individually at different times so harvesting them at the same stage of ripeness is near impossible. I harvested 4 gallons worth in about an hour using a combination of hand raking and actual raking. I laid out a large drop cloth and pulled everything on to the drop cloth. I harvested Sep 18 2015.

Prepare the olives

Step 2 is to clean and filter the olives. My 4 gallons of olives reduced to 15 pounds of olives (about 35 cups). Raking and hand-picking has a lot of leaves and twigs in the pile. Also a significant portion of the olives have some damage that exclude them. I filled a spaghetti pot half-full with olives and the rest with water. I removed the twigs and leaves. I picked up 2-4 olives in my hand and tossed them. I quickly discarded the bad olives and sorted the good olives into a green pile and a dark pile (partially to fully ripe).

I followed a recommendation to slit the olives to speed up the curing: The brine can access the inside of the olive more easily. You may ask “Is that time-consuming?”. Here is the calculations: One cup of olives contains about 50 olives. I had 30 cups of olives, so 1500 olives. It took 3 hours or 180 minutes to slice the olives.

Brine the olives

I am using the brine method to cure the olives. Brining allows lacto-bacillus fermentation to occur, converting the sugars into lactic acid. Lactic acid is a natural preservative and it increases vitaman and enzymes. And darn it, it tastes good.

Mix 1 and 1/2 cup coarse pickling salt or kosher salt in a gallon of water.

Every month, replace the brine (because the bitter oleuropein glucoside compounds have leached out of the olives into the brine.

After three months, start tasting the olives to see if they are better rather than bitter.


Finish the olives

When the olives are ready, you can finish in a variety of ways: Add herbs, vinegar, chile peppers, garlic,  olive oil, or flavored brine.

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