I know it’s not the season for preserving olives, but it’s the season for eating them. And that’s a good enough reason to look at how you preserve these little beauties.
I didn’t start out liking them. When I went travelling as a young (and very silly) 20-something, I decided I wouldn’t eat them. It was a point in my favour with my co-traveller in Greece that I happily handed over my share to her every time.
I’ve learned better since then. My sister married into a Greek family with a classic yia-yia who pickled her own olives gathered from trees in her Preston backyard.
While there wasn’t much about me to impress a traditional Greek granny, there was one thing – even then I loved cooking and preserving and I was deeply interested in her recipes. (My sister is inestimably better than me in most ways, except this one – she was never interested in cooking).
And so that yia-yia and I, with almost no language in common, bonded over olives and “danger cake”, which is delicious and heavily laced with ouzo.
I now have a small olive tree in my own backyard, which is just starting to produce some fruit. This year we moved it from a big pot into the garden, so there was considerable disruption to its fruiting, but I have hopes for next year.
Instead I sourced a couple of kilograms of large green olives via Ceres. I tried to access some from a heavily laden tree nearby in the neighbourhood, but the people who were living there said they had plans to use them themselves. Every time I passed, the fruit seemed untouched, and then one day the entire tree disappeared. Such a waste.
The first time I did this particular recipe a couple of years ago, it was one of several a friend and I tested. For me it was the standout, and it’s the one I have returned to. The original recipe comes from Preserving The Italian Way by Pietro De Maio.
Garlic Olives (Olive con Aglio Sott’Olio)
You need: olives, white wine vinegar, salt, lemon rind, herbs, garlic, celery, olive oil
- Cut two slits into each olive and pace them in a bucket or large pot or bowl and cover with water.
- Change the water every day. The recipe I followed said to do that for seven days, but this year I doubled that time. The olives still seemed incredibly bitter after the first week of soaking.
- Make a brine, using about 100g of salt per litre of water. The test is that an egg will float in it, showing a 10c-20-sized piece of the shell above the water line (this was what my sister’s mother-in-law told me). Bring it to the boil and allow to cool. The important thing is that all the salt is dissolved.
- Mix the brine with white wine vinegar in the ratio of one part of vinegar to four parts of brine.
- In a jar, place layers of olives, chopped celery, chunks of garlic, parsley, lemon rind. I also added fresh oregano (co-incidentally a very fragrant plant taken as a cutting from the yia-yia’s garden).
- Almost fill the jar with the brine, and then pour a layer of oil on top.
- Keep for at least three months before using. Mine are perfect now and it’s been six months.