Ever since we brought in our line of fermenting crocks, we’ve been absolutely obsessing over curing our own olives. Why? Because olives are delicious and versatile. They’re great on cheese plates, amazing in cocktails, and SO good on their own as a snack. Plus, they’re high in antioxidants and vitamin E. Can’t hurt, right? So when olives finally came into season here, we bought ourselves a ton of raw, uncured olives and got to experimenting.
Here’s a little thing about olives: when they’re uncured, they don’t taste good at all. In fact, they taste downright nasty. I think that cured olives had to be born out of desperation, since no one in their right mind would bite into and uncured olive and go, “Oh hey, let’s eat this.” They’re bitter. Another thing about olives: green and black olives can come from the same plant. The green olives are unripe and the black olives are ripe. As you can see, we used green olives in our experiment, and we took a slightly unorthodox approach – we cured the olives like we’ve cured cabbage for sauerkraut in the past. Put it in a crock packed with salt and seasoning and let it lacto-ferment. It seemed like a logical choice – less labor intensive than brine curing and less potential for chemical burns than lye curing. Ready for the details? Let’s learn how to cure olives.
Stuff You’ll Need
- A fermenting crock or large, covered food-safe container
- Sharp knife
Ingredients (this recipe can be multiplied as needed):
- 5 lbs olives
- 1 lb salt
- 1 tbsp black peppercorns
- 5 cloves garlic
- zest of one orange
- 5 sprigs rosemary
- filtered water, as needed
- Prep your olives. Pit them or cut a slit in the side of each to help them absorb the brine. Some recipes even suggest hitting them with a hammer. However you break them up, make sure you drop them right in a container of water or the spot that’s cut will oxidize, as some of ours did in the photo. This isn’t a bad thing flavorwise, but it’s not pretty.
- Prep your seasoning. Crush the peppercorns and garlic with a mortar and pestle or the back of a frying pan (put them in a bag first to keep them from scattering all over your kitchen.) Zest your orange in large strips using a peeler. If you’re not into the garlic/orange/rosemary thing, use whatever spices you like. Pickling spices work beautifully. So does lemon zest, thyme, and pink peppercorns. Really any mixture of hearty herbs (read: not basil or mint) works well here.)
- Toss your seasonings in with your salt. Get your hands in there and really rub everything together. You’ll have a crazy aromatic salt mixture, and you’ll find yourself very aware of any little cuts, nicks or scrapes on your hands. They’ll seriously burn.
- Add some of the salt mixture to the bottom of your crock and begin packing in the olives as tightly as possible. Once you’ve packed in about 1/4 of the olives, sprinkle about 1/4 of the remaining salt mixture. Repeat until all the olives and salt are in the crock.
- Pop the stones on top of your olives. Fill the water well seal and leave them alone, in a cool place, for a day. After 24 hours, check to see how much brine they’ve made (by naturally releasing juice.) If the brine is covering the olives, leave them alone. If not, and it probably won’t be quite there, add filtered water until it covers the olives and the stones by at least a couple inches.
- Leave your crock in a cool dark place where it can sit for a couple of months. That’s right, you’re in it for the long haul. Check the brine level every week to make sure they’re still covered. After about 3 weeks, open the crock, taste the olives (chances are they’ll still be bitter.) If they’re not to your liking yet, simply check the water level on your olives to keep the fruit and the stones covered, and leave them alone. Check every week or so. Ours have been in the crock about 8 weeks and they’re FINALLY getting good!
- Once you’re happy with the way the olives taste, it’s time to transfer them into canning jars. You could store them for up to a year in their brine in a cool dark place. You can also can them in jars with fresh brine (1/4 cup salt to every quart of water.) If you’re doing that, make sure to leave about an inch of head room in the jars for any gas that may try to escape. My favorite way to store fresh cured olives is to pack them into large jars and submerge them in hot, fresh olive oil. I use lower quality olive oil for this, heat it, and pour it straight on top of the olives, leaving about an inch of headroom. The olives, which wrinkle slightly during the curing process seem to plump back up, and at the end of the day I also have this amazingly flavored olive oil to use. It’s great in a salad dressing or as a dip for bread. I also love it in my pesto. Once these olives have cooled, I either store them in a cool, dark place for up to a month or my fridge. Or I give them as gifts.
Well, there you have it. You’ve learned how to cure olives. Like so many things, it’s more time consuming than it is difficult. But the finished product is SO worth it! Plus, you can actually say you made them yourself. Who makes their own olives, seriously?