Rightio. Making your own pickled olives is not only fun and quite easy, it’s also very satisfying on some sub-conscious level. We’ve been pickling olives since around the Copper Age (4,000 BC), so it is truly a basic human foodstuff, and one which has stood the test of time. When olives come off the tree, they are pretty inedible (although not poisonous) due to the presence of oleuropein, a glycoside which protects the olive fruit from the unwanted advances of various animals. It’s worth trying just the one untreated olive sometime… a memorable experience. You won’t be lining up for a second bite, though.
Once they’re off the tree, olives are usually pickled or fermented to be eaten whole, or pressed to make olive oil. Let’s just leave the making of olive oil for another day, but suffice to say that you squish the olives, thereby removing the oil from the flesh of the fruit. And that you need rather a lot of olives. Pickling and fermenting, on the other hand, is easy to do on a small, domestic scale – you can get very creative with marinades and stuffings once you’ve gone through the basic fermentation process, or you can just eat them out of the jar. Yum.
There are many, many ways to go about preparing olives for consumption in their whole form, but all the methods are working off a few common principles. And Nick’s made a video covering the basics of how to convert your freshly picked/bought olives from weird green berry things into the food of the gods…
So below is the basic data to do with how to pickle your own olives. Olives pickled in this way should keep indefinitely if stored somewhere out of the light. If at any point after fermenting your olives things seem not quite right, or the container smells evil (unlikely but possible), do what you would do for any food that doesn’t smell right: don’t eat it. Pour off the brine and stick the offending olives in your compost or worm farm or bokashi or whatever. They will then go back through the system, and the only stop they will be bypassing, really, is your stomach. So no great loss. However it is much more likely that you will eat them all and be very full of olivey goodness year after year.
You will need:
Once your olives are pickled you can really start to go crazy. If they are too salty for your liking, just swap the brine in your jar for fresh water – this will leach out some of the salt in the olives. Make sure you refrigerate them if you are storing them without the brine, otherwise they will go off.
If you like them salty, just go ahead and eat them. If you want to marinate them in whatever oil and spices tickles your fancy, pour off the brine and get into it. I like a mix of water, white wine vinegar and a little salt. If you want to stuff them, I highly recommend getting an olive de-seeder – a nifty little device which is cheap and easy to use.
And that is really the basics of olive pickling. This applies to both black and green olives. Further down the track (when our olives are ready), I’ll get into some specific recipes for tapenades, olive breads, marinades and the like, but for the meantime, happy pickling!
By the way; this is the way our family pickles olives and we know there are lots of other methods out there. We’d love to hear from you if you have a secret family method or recipe that you’d like to share?