Friday, August 12, 2011
Curing Raw Green Olives from the Farmers Market
ExperienceLA has promoted and provided a Los Angeles Farmers Market database since inception. Over the last three years, my wife and I have bought raw Manzanilla green olives from Paso Roble’s Scott Peacock, owner of Peacock Family Farms during the Fall months. Scott has been coming to the Sunday Hollywood Farmers Market since inception and can also be found at the Santa Barbara Saturday Farmers Market. The first year we bought one pound of raw olives, then the second year we bought 3 pounds, and then this past year we bought an entire flat of 27 pounds. We wanted to cure these olives without using lye and we looked at our curing/preserving cookbooks and checked out what was on the Internet.
The first year we started small and worked our way up to the larger quantities. Frankly, we were a bit intimated about doing this, and the purpose of this posting is to offer encouragement on home curing of raw green olives that you might find at your local farmers market beginning in October and later. Raw olives need to be cured, and are not ready until then. Otherwise, they are bitter, and the brining will leach out the bitterness. These curing recipes go back hundreds and even thousands of years. With no refrigeration, one needed methods to preserve food, and salt was always a favorite.
For our basic brining recipe, we settled on a recipe from Karen Solomon’s “Jam it, pickle it, cure it and other cooking projects” published by Ten Speed Press in 2009. When you go on the Internet, you can find recipes that even call for changing out the water on a daily basis without the use of salt. But here are the basics from Karen Solomon:
One cup of kosher salt to one gallon of cool water
Wash the olives and place a slit in each olive. This can be time consuming depending on how many olives you bought
Place olives in a glass container with a lid. Make sure the olives are completely submerged. One way to do this is to fill a small plastic bag with water which will push the olives below the water. Store in a cool dark place, check weekly, stir, and skim the scum from the top.
Olives will be ready to eat in 6 – 8 weeks but can keep curing for many more months. When you are ready to stop the curing, then change out the salt brine liquid by changing the kosher salt and water ratio to a half cup of kosher salt to one gallon of water and refrigerate. Once you have diluted the water, the curing process has stopped. So taste the olives, if they are still bitter, then keep curing.
This is the essence of the Karen Solomon recipe. Once the olives are ready to eat, they can be eaten as is or fancied up. But more on this later, as the following are some additional comments on curing based on our own experience.
When researching recipes on the Internet, we noted that some people had one changing out the brine on a weekly basis, while others might suggest a change of the brine every month. We noticed that the initial salt brine really accelerated the leaching of the bitterness in the initial week. In fact one time, we noticed that it had actually produced some bubbles. Karen Solomon did not have one changing out the brine liquid, but we changed it out every month or so. Olives being stored in a salt brine in a cool dark place can keep for six months or so.
Other Internet recipes had you smash the olives to speed up the curing process. We found that patience is the best virtue, as someone even suggested that we try pitting the olives to speed it up. Yes it did speed it up, but the flavor was not as full.
So since we had cured 27 pounds of olives, and we were not likely to consume or give them all away in six months, we did set aside 10 pounds for pressure canning so as to extend the shelf life and not require refrigeration. This process ends up cooking the olives to some degree and they are similar but much better than any canned green olives you might purchase at the store.
But the fun part is flavoring the cured olives after being removed from the curing liquid, and one can use your imagination to come up with your own variations. This year we did the following three different flavors all packing the cured olives in a quality virgin olive oil and then refrigeration. But don’t get alarmed when you see what happens to the olive oil while in the refrigerator. Just take it out, and once at room temperature looks like olive oil again.
So here are three of our recipes from this year, you can experiment with the amount of the flavorings as you put the cured green olives without the brine in quality olive oil using canning jars or plastic containers:
· Mix the cured green olives in olive oil with garlic, rosemary, a few chili peppers, and lemon peel version. Refrigerate making sure that the olives are covered with the olive oil.
· Mix the cured green olives in olive oil with a couple of teaspoons of liquid smoke for smoked olives. Refrigerate making sure that the olives are covered with the olive oil. Note I did try smoking the olives in a barbecue, but one needs to have it at a really low heat, otherwise the olives cook.
· Mix the cured green olives in olive oil with a a couple of tablespoons of herb de provence. Refrigerate making sure that the olives are covered with the olive oil.
Anyway, Scott Peacock and his helpers have been fascinated by what we have done with their Paso Robles green manzanilla olives. And for those who might want to learn more about olives, one can check out the Paso Robles Olive festival on August 20 or ride the Metro Gold Line into Pasadena to visit the Beyond the Olive store or ride the Metro Blue Line into Long Beach transferring to the Long Beach Transit Passport to Belmont Shore to visit We Olive that incidentally had its origin in Paso Robles .