Olive season

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.

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Two slits for each olive with a sharp small knife and then into a water bath.

Garlic Olives (Olive con Aglio Sott’Olio)

You need: olives, white wine vinegar, salt, lemon rind, herbs, garlic, celery, olive oil

  1. Cut two slits into each olive and pace them in a bucket or large pot or bowl and cover with water.
  2. 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.

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    After a while in the water the olives will start to discolour along the slits. That’s normal.
  3. 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.
  4. Mix the brine with white wine vinegar in the ratio of one part of vinegar to four parts of brine.
  5. 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).

    IMG_4298
    After six months in the jar, the flavour is amazing, and the re’s no trace of bitterness.
  6. Almost fill the jar with the brine, and then pour a layer of oil on top.
  7. Keep for at least three months before using. Mine are perfect now and it’s been six months.

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