Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Home-cured olives

Back in 2007, prompted by an article in the Times (, my compatriots (that would be Strenk, Meyers, and of course Lang) and I set out to cure ourselves a mess of olives. Being a last-minute kind of thing we were forced to have a box shipped to Maine from California. The shipping cost more than the olives, but we were determined.

Of the four I was the only one who had prior experience in olive curing. If you want to call it that.

Once every couple years my mother and aunts used to whip up a batch. They'd direct me towards the giant grape arbor out back of my grandfather's two apartment buildings (six railroad flats, six families, all of them headed by one of his children). Under the grapevine would be several crates of olives, a couple large wooden tables, and (here's where I came in) one of Uncle Joe's ( hammers. One by one, I'd have to smash each and every olive so that the skin would crack, in order to accommodate the family's curing method. Decades later and my fingers still hurt.

Thing is, my job began and ended under that grapevine. Which is to say I had no prior olive-curing experience whatsoever.

Long story short, the batch we made in '07 was just okay. Way too heavy on the lemon was the consensus. And the scary lava-like action when some of the jars were opened after the required six-month wait was unsettling, leading to a few jars' worth getting tossed. And so last fall, unaided by my usual crew, I set out to try again, this time hauling a box of olives back from Brooklyn, where all is wonderful and good.

I used the same recipe (reprinted below) but with some adjustments, the main one being that instead of using lemon juice I just used more of the brine. Other adjustments were similar to what we did three years ago: instead of using just celery, we went with celery in some jars, fennel in others; and we used oranges as well as lemons.

Other than that, here's the recipe and some of the shots taken along the way. (Apologies for the lack of true step-by-step pics, as this blog did not exist last fall and so who knew I'd need to document everything?)

The raw product.

And now, I will make an egg float.

The part I could've used some help with.

Nice, huh?

Seven months later.

Not the prettiest olives you ever saw, but tasty. Much better without the lemon juice. And, so far at least, no jars seem to need tossing.

Here's the recipe from the Times article. If anybody's up for making a batch, I can haul a few crates up to Maine come fall.

Nonno's Olives
Adapted from Marco Smouha


1 egg

3 1/2 pounds fresh green olives, washed

2 lemons, scrubbed and cut into quarters

4 stalks celery, cut into 2-inch lengths

1 head garlic, cloves separated and peeled

1 handful fresh hot chili peppers, such as jalapeƱo, serrano or cubanelle

1 cup white vinegar

1 cup lemon juice (fresh or bottled)

Vegetable oil.

1. Make a brine: Add about 1/2 cup salt to 2 quarts water, mixing to dissolve. Place whole egg in brine. If egg floats, water is salty enough for curing; if egg sinks, add salt and mix gently, repeating until egg floats to surface. Remove egg.

2. Place a third of the olives in a gallon jar with a wide mouth and a tight lid. Add roughly a third of the lemon pieces, a third of the celery, a third of the garlic and a third of the chili peppers. Repeat twice with remaining ingredients, pressing down to pack layers tightly into jar. Top off with a layer of celery pieces.

3. Pour brine into jar until it comes halfway up. Add vinegar and lemon juice. If needed, pour in more brine until jar is almost full. Gently pour a thin layer of oil over surface. Close jar and store at cool room temperature for at least six months. Jar may leak slightly from top as mixture ferments, so store on a tray.

4. Serve plain, or with a tangy cheese such as kashkaval, kasseri or Manchego. Everything can be eaten, and lemon pieces can be used in recipes calling for preserved lemons.

5. Refrigerate after opening. As olives and vegetables are removed, keep remainder covered with brine or oil. If olives become too strong-tasting as they sit, drain brine and pour in olive oil to cover.

Yield: 1 gallon.

Note: Top layer of vegetables may turn black during curing, because of air exposure. (A little bit of air is necessary to cure olives safely, so just screw the top firmly shut and do not attempt to boil or vacuum-seal the jar as for canning.) Blackened parts should be discarded but remainder is fine to eat. If contents become moldy, discard them.

Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company


Thomas Henry Strenk said...

A jar of that first batch still sits in the fridge, off-color olives in cloudy congealed oil.
Still untasted. The foamy eruption when we opened them scared me.
Do I dare?
Would you, Mr. M?

Mister Meatball said...

tobyty: Only if you got a death wish.

Jeannie said...

Looks do you eat them? Besides mixing into salad and as pizza toppings, I can't imagine what do one do with preserved olives? Oh and I have checked out the links you posted in my blog, they are interesting but quite daunting to try. Thanks again. Cheers!

Mister Meatball said...

Jeannie: I just eat them as-is. They're too large to toss into salad, and they are not pitted, so not so good for pizza.

As for the links, yes, it is daunting. But I did it once and they turned out okay. With your skills they should be much better.

Thanks for stopping by.

Claudia said...

I have always been tempted to do this - am afraid of jarring anything under pain of accidentally killing someone. But oh man - this looks tasty.Now, where to get crates of olives in Minnesota?