Tis the season to brine olives! Or salt them, if you prefer. Whether you’ve grown them yourself or foraged them from bird-sown trees, it’s late Autumn that you want to pick and cure them.
There are many ways to cure olives, but the essential thing is that you extract the glucosides from them – the chemicals that make the olives very bitter when just picked.
You can do this by curing them in water and changing it daily, or by brining them, or dry salting them, or salt and then smoke them… so many options!
In fact, we’ve written quite a few ‘how to brine olives’ articles over the years – so we’ve decided to gather them all together here, alongside our latest updated methods, based on 15+ years of olive-ing.
So – below is a few articles that we’ve written over the years, brought together. There’s even a video down the bottom of Nick brining olives in a caravan in Mudgee in 2007, if you’re really keen.
But first up, let’s start with the olive curing method we use year in, year out – it’s an easy water stage, and then a brine stage. And the result is a super tasty olive, no matter if you’re doing a 20 litre bucketfull, or just one small jar. enjoy x
How to Brine Olives – our fave method
Okay so after a LOT of years of experimenting with brining, changing water, brining again, and so on – this is our settled method for brining olives that is low on hassle and high on success and taste.
This method is a combo of fresh water and brining – it produces an excellent edible olive a few months after harvest (the exact time it takes will depend on your variety).
If you are super short on time, you can cheat with the ‘just brine them’ method by heading straight to the brining stage below this bit. Straight-up brining is fine, but will take a bit longer before the olives are ready AND they may have a more astringent taste.
The Water stage
In this first stage, fresh water is used to leach out some of the glucosides (the chemicals that make the olives very bitter when just picked) before you set the olives to brine.
This stage results in a sweeter (or less astringent) eating olive at the end of the brining process. Extra-recommended for foraged or wild olives, that may have more glucosides in them.
There’s lots of ways you can do this stage, but here’s what we do – for a balance between getting the benefits of the water stage, but also minimal hassle, and minimal water use.
Find a vessel you can drain regularly…
Find yourself a cooler or chilly bin with an external drain on it. Or a drum with a tap will do fine also. Cover the inner end of the drain with a little bit of mesh, so olives can’t get stuck in it.
Then, set up your vessel somewhere it can be easily drained by putting a bucket under the outlet – on a rock wall, an outside chair, or wherever suits you.
Add your olives and water, and set a reminder…
Then, add your just-picked olives to your vessel, and fill up the container with clean water. Rainwater is best, but use what you have. Cover the vessel and leave for 2 days – set yourself a reminder or write it on your calendar.
After two days, drain off the water, use it on your garden, re-plug the outlet and fill up with clean water once more. Set another reminder, and then do the drain/refill sequence again. Set another reminder.
Repeat, repeat, repeat…
Try and repeat this process for 14 days total. Longer is fine too, if you like (up to about a month) and a shorter period of time is still better than not doing it at all.
If you forget about your olives for an extra day or two, fear not – your olives will be fine. Carry on until it’s 2 weeks later, or you need to move on with your life. Now, it’s time to brine.
Once you’ve done the next stage you can store and forget about your olives for a few months, until it’s time to eat them.
The Brine Stage
So you might jump straight to this part once you have your olives (if so, wash your olives first) OR you might proceed here from the fresh-water stage above. Either way – yay it’s brine time!
First things first – sort out your storage container that you’re going to brine in. This might be a glass jar, or a food-grade plastic bucket with a lid. Either is fine, use what you have.
10% Brine recipe:
Ok here we go – 10% brine time! This is dead simple. Use a good, non-iodised rock or sea salt. We used Himalayan rock salt because we have a great drum of it in our pantry, but use whatever you can get that’s straight-up salt, without caking agents.
Note that our previous method used an egg – based on old-school advice, where you use the egg as a barometer to approximate a 10% brine – if the egg floats, your water is sufficiently salty. If it sinks, add more salt. We don’t use this method anymore! We now weigh the salt. But if you’re in a pinch, you can try the egg method.
So – firstly decide on your volume of water, based on the vessel that you’re brining your olives in. You might decide to make one litre of brine, or 10, or 20 litres. That’s up to you. A very general rule of thumb would be to make up 1/3 the capacity of your container.
Let’s say we’re using a 12 litre bucket to brine our excellent olive harvest. Therefore, you’re going to need about 4 litres of 10% brine. To make 4 litres of 10% brine, mix 4 litres of water (preferably non-chlorinated, if you can manage that) and 400g of salt together, to make a 1:10 ratio of salt to water – and that’s your 10% brine.
Again – it’s all about mixing 10% salt by weight with the amount of water you estimate that you’ll need. So 100g of salt for 1 litre of water, 200g of salt for 2 litres of water, and so on – you get the idea.
Tip: add the salt to a seperate container, boil 1/4 of the water you need, and pour that over the salt and stir to dissolve – and then add the other 3/4 of the cold water you need – you’ll end up with a lukewarm brine.
Once you have your brine ready to go, pack your olives into your chosen vessel a clean jar (squish them down a bit, the tighter the better) and pour the cooled brine over the lot, until the olives are submerged. You can add a plate on top, or some other sort of mesh, to keep the olives submerged underneath the brine.
Once your olives are in their brine
Keep your olives somewhere dark and temperature stable. The bottom of a cupboard is fine.
How long to brine
Like the proverbial piece of string, it depends – on the size of your olives, their ripeness, whether you did the water stage, and your desired saltiness.
Taste your olives after they’ve been in the brine for 2 months, and get to know the taste of brining olives – you’ll soon get a feel for when they are as you like them. 4 months to a year is the spectrum.
After the brine stage
Once your olives are ready and you’ve drained the brine off them (which will now be very bitter) – it’s time to decide how you want your brined olives to roll.
At this point you can proceed to store your olives in olive oil, or in 50:50 vinegar and water, or in a newly-made 10% brine in the cupboard for up to 6 months.
Adding herbs and spices and lemon slices at this point is good. You can also smoke them! Or just eat them.
Dry Salted Olives
This method is great for smaller olives (like these kalamatas above, that we scored from a tree on our last road trip).
First up, make sure your olives are clean by giving them a quick wash, then drain.
Then, take your clean jar and add a layer of good quality, non-iodised salt, then a layer of olives, and so on until the jar is full.
The salt will trickle down between the olives, but as long as it’s all packed in there, that’s ok.
Your salted olives will need a shake and a turn ever other day – the olives will soon exude liquid and the whole jar will become rather slushy. That’s good. Keep going.
Start tasting your salted olives at around the 3 week mark, and when they taste right to you (saltier, and a bit shrunken, and slightly sweeter than brined olives), remove the olives from the salt.
Once your olives are duly salted, you can eat them straight up, or store them in oil with herbs. They’re pretty darn yummy.
Our favourite olive recipe ever: Pearl’s roasted olives
This recipe is prettymuch what it sounds like BUT it’s no less amazing for that. Roasted olives is also an amazing way to eat ‘tasty but not that great-looking’ olives that have slightly bruised during the brining process, or were somewhat wonky to begin with. Your before-dinner snack plate will never be the same again.
We learned this recipe from our dear friend Pearl, otherwise known as Genevieve and/or Eggplantia (mmm actually I’m not sure many folks call her eggplantia, but anyhoo)… who put out a big bowl of these roasted olives one evening at her farmhouse table, and changed my life. They are really good.
You will need:
- Lemon slices (orange or cumquat work well too)
- Lots of cloves of garlic (unpeeled is fine)
- A slosh of olive oil
Heat your oven to about 220ºc, fan-forced if you’ve got it. Tip drained olives onto a large baking tray, and add lemon slices, whole garlic cloves, and bits of rosemary. Make sure the olives aren’t over-packed, and not multiple layers deep – if you have a lot, use two trays.
Slosh a bit of olive oil over the tray and mix everything around with your hands. Then, into the oven. Keep an eye on the tray and take it out at the 15 minute mark to agitate and give it a bit of a stir, then back in.
After 20-30 minutes, remove and cool. The exact oven time you use will depend on size and variety of olives, but you want the olives a bit blistered on top, the lemon slices getting very toasty, and the garlic getting very roasty.
Pour out the lot into a big bowl and serve to your loved ones, to snack on while warm. Also excellent cold, the next day.
So there you have it! Happy picking + foraging… and if you’re up for a blast from the past, here’s a video of Nick showing how to cure olives in 2007, from back in the days when we lived in a little caravan on a hillside, next door to an olive farm…
How do you cure your olives? Got any favourite recipes or flavour combinations for us to try? We’d love to hear…
We acknowledge that permaculture owes the roots of its theory and practice to traditional and Indigenous knowledges, from all over the world. We all stand on the shoulders of many ancestors – as we learn, and re-learn, these skills and concepts. We pay our deepest respects and give our heartfelt thanks to these knowledge-keepers, both past and present.