We have never bought preserved olives and never intend to do so.
So, rescuing the olive preserving tradition was obviously on our Mangia! Mangia! ‘must do’ list.
The thought of having to rely on the chemically filled commercial variety, when our parents are no longer with us is unthinkable!
So we set out to record every nuanced technique in this iconic food ritual.
We discovered the process is not complicated. Every grandmother, mother and aunt has their own slightly different recipe.
They assured us that over time and with confidence, we too can add our own personality to the olive preserving process.
The Mangia! Mangia! lesson here is; practice by repetition is important and then the recipe becomes your own.
The Art of Curing Olives - what the lay person needs to know..
Many people have approached Mangia! Mangia! asking how they cure the olives growing in their inner city backyard. They didn't plant the tree but found themselves with this noble fruit bearing tree and don't know where to start. Or many have planted the tree for its aesthetics and hardiness and now find themselves with olives! Have no fret. Mangia! Mangia! is here to help!
Lesson 1. There is no 'one curing recipe' fits all solution.
There are so many different types of olives it can be all quite overwhelming. Let's keep it simple. The variety sold at markets are different to the variety grown in your backyard. The market variety are usually more robust, have been cultivated and are largish. They can sustain the long 3 month curing process. ( We have an excellent recipe for the green olives in our first book and also posted in our recipes section on our website under Autumn Recipes. For black olives refer to our cookbook.)
They type grown in backyards are usually smaller, more tender and of a different variety - there are so many but suffice to day a recipe coming from the hills of Calabria that has ancient olive trees are not the type of olive found in Fitzroy.
Lesson 2. Know your olive. Knowledge is power. Green or black? This is the question.
Focussing on the backyard olive, make sure you know about your particular olives. We have 2 different types of trees and both require a different curing process.For example our older tree has a rounder olive, resembling the manzanillo variety. This variety ripens very quickly so before you know it they are turning black. Best to let them go all black.
We advise against picking when there is a combination of shades of green - it is either black or green. In fact this variety makes a better black olive .
Our other variety is a younger tree and olives stay green for a long time - in fact they have never turned black - strange - however that is they way it is. So of course, we wait until the olives appear ripe and then pick them. This olive is smallish and tender and cure very quickly - see mum's recipe below.
Lesson 3. Curing olives requires focus, attention and commitment.
Whichever olive you have, the curing process does demand commitment. You need to watch over them, taste test and maybe adjust curing time. So ensure you set aside the time in your busy schedule.
Lesson 4. Don't be intimated by the olive. Know the basic rules and then you are free to experiment.
Once you know that there are different types of olives and not one curing method fits all, you will have more control and satisfaction.
Lesson 5. Start your own 'olive conversation'.
You may make mistakes initially but like our mums and nonnas, they maintain the 'olive conversation', sharing knowledge and tips and evolving all the time.
For backyard small green olives that resemble kalamata in shape.
1. Slit olive with a knife or smash with an empty bottle on a wooden chopping board.
2. Place them in a plastic bucket filled with cold water and a couple of lemons cut in quarters. Ensure olives are submerged fully in water and place upturned plate to secure them. Water should be over the plate.
3. Change the water and lemons twice a day.
4. After one week, taste to see if bitterness has gone. The duration will depend on the size of the olive so don't worry if it requires longer.
5. when ready, drain well and mix with your favourite herbs - we add died origano, garlic cloves, lemon quarters, salt, and then cover with olive oil. Place in an airtight container or glass jar with lid secured, in the fridge. They will keep for two weeks or so.
For backyard black olives either round or kalamata in shape.
1 kilo black olives
1 teaspoon of sweet chilli powder and 1 tablespoon of dried oregano (optional)
1. Soak olives in a bucket full of water. Leave for 2 days, changing the water each day.
2. Drain well place olives in bucket again. Add salt and spices (optional)
3. Turn the olives to ensure salt is constantly evenly spread at least a couple of times a day for 3 to 4 days depending on size.
4. Place olives into a large colander with a weight. The bitter juice needs to be squeezed out of olives to sweeten. An effective weight is an upside down plate and brick wrapped in a tea towel. Leave in a cool place for 1 week.
6. Taste olive for sweetness. If still bitter leave for another day or so.
7. Once sweet they need to dry. You can place them on a tray in a low heated oven for a couple of hours or outside in sun if weather permits.
8. Once dry you can freeze some to use for pizza topping or fried up in chopped garlic and olive oil (this is yummy). Or freeze all and defrost and marinate as you need them - mum does this and they taste great. She makes sure there is always a jar in the fridge and marinates another lot when the jar is empty.
9. Another way of storing them is to dress with olive oil, chopped garlic and spices of choice - all of which are optional, I prefer them plain. Then pack them in a jar, fill with olive oil or a combination of olive/vegetable oil, seal and store in fridge. Will last for ages as long as fully covered in oil.
Good luck and enjoy the adventure