Homemade Olives: The curing process

Homemade Olives: The curing process

Olive night came and went and the olives are now happily eating up all my available counter space, curing their little brains out. Why must they cure? Olives in their raw state are seriously bitter (try one! It’s shocking), so they must be cured to remove the ick. There are three ways to do this:

1. Salt-Drying: I don’t know much about this method other than it uses a shocking amount of salt. But suffice to say, at the end of the process you get shriveled little uber-olives. Power-packed with flavor. Not for the faint of heart or the fair-weather olive friend. I love them.

2. Curing with Lye: Commercial olives are typically cured with lye. It’s the lower-maintenance method (barely) and has therefore won the hearts of olive manufacturers eager to turn out this year’s batch of olives and make a buck. Any olives you see that have not been cracked have likely been lye-cured. But everything I’ve heard about lye tells me it’s a nasty thing to work with in your home, so we’ll be curing with…

2. Curing with Water: Oleuropein*, the substance that makes olives bitter, is soluble in water (how lucky). So an easy, albeit more labor intensive way to remove the bitterness is to soak the little olivinas in water. To do this, first you must crack the olives (really well) to allow the bitterness to leech out. Then put them in a jar and cover them completely with water. At this stage there is no need to refrigerate them. Change the water every day for 10 days. Over the course of the ten days, you’ll notice the water you dump each day gets less and less stinky yellow. At the end of this process, the olives will smell faintly olive-like but will be almost tasteless.

How do you crack an olive?

I’ve experimented with several ways; faced with 20-30 pounds of olives, I alternate between two to avoid sore hands or amputated limbs (you think I jest…) The first method involves placing one olive at a time on a cutting board and either leaning on it with the flat side of a cleaver (any wide, stiff knife will work. A second, smaller cutting board will work as well). This works better if you’re tall or like to cook in platforms or stilettos. The second method is similar; you rest the flat side of the knife on the olive, but instead of leaning on the knife, you give it a swift whack with the heel of your hand. Sometimes the knives get slippery from the olive goo (careful, it stains) and you get scared that you’ll slip and chop off a limb. When that happens, you might consider switching to smashing the olives with that second, smaller cutting board I mentioned instead of the slimy knives.

*This is priceless – Wikinerdia’s explanation for what oleuropein is: “tyrosol esters of elenolic acid that are further hydroxylated and glycosylated.” In case you were wondering.

Where to buy fresh olives:
For the past five years, I have bought my olives from Penna, a family-run business in California. While you’re at it, check our their Olivasecca – amazing dried black olives the likes of which you’ve never tasted. You can also follow them on Facebook and they’ll keep you up-to-date on when olive season starts and ends.

Other posts in this series:

  1. Blather on about the greatness of home-cured olives and order freshies
  2. T’aint no lye: Curing olives without the nasties (hint: use water!) (you are here)
  3. Brining is the key to olive happiness. Oh, the places we’ll go!