[You will find the step-by-step process of brining and marinating olives near the bottom of this post.]
It’s nearly the end of November, which means that for the past few weeks many Greeks have been busy harvesting olives to make their treasured, delicious, golden extra virgin olive oil. Last year, I went on my first olive harvest with all the enthusiasm of someone who didn’t yet understand how much work actually goes into collecting olives for olive oil…
Let’s be honest, while I had an amazing time last year dragging large branches through a harvesting machine, whacking at the low-drooping branches full of olives with tiny plastic rakes and munching on homemade sandwiches at the foot of a 100-year old olive tree, the growling sound of the harvesting-machine and the seemingly endless whacking and dragging did get rather monotone and tiresome after a while and I am not sure I have fully recovered yet.
So, while working hard on the fields and finally being able to taste our own homemade olive oil was definitely greatly rewarding, my boyfriend and I decided to do something different this year. Rather than tackling dozens of trees to make olive oil, we decided to loot the three small olive trees in my boyfriend’s family’s garden in Naxos to make our own brined and marinated olives.
We were holidaying on Naxos at the end of September and by this time the three little trees were full of bright green and shiny black olives perfect for brining. While November is famous for being ‘olive harvest month’, many olives are actually ready to harvest when they are juicy, ripe and green, or nearly turning reddish-purple in late September. We couldn’t wait until November to pick them anyway because we would return to Athens, so we bought some nets and bags and got to work.
You’d think picking olives from three trees only is not all that much work – at least, that’s what I thought – but without little rakes, a machine, and lots of other helping hands it did take us a full day of hard work (never mind the fact that the Greek sun at the end of September is still scorching hot). The hard work is not so much in the picking itself, but in selecting only the best, unblemished olives. We made the mistake of not being too picky at first and ended up having to go through each and every single olive all over again after we found out that any tiny little hole in an olive is a potential front-door of a little worm living in there! Turns out, there was a small olive fly infestation and we had to be incredibly selective and precise in selecting only the most perfect olives. You see, this is a slight downside of having only a few olive trees; while on a large field people would merely skip over an infested tree and deal with it later, we didn’t really have the luxury to do that. On the plus side, we did end up with a large batch of perfect, shiny, unblemished plump olives to take home.
So, after selecting only the most perfect olives, how do they turn into those delicious, briny snacks that we know so well? To be perfectly honest, let me start by telling you it will take some weeks (about 5 to 6) before you are able to get to the snacking part, but then you’ve really got something (a huge stash of olives you’ll never be able to finish on your own) to be proud of.
How to Brine and Marinate Olives
Step 1: Prepping the olives and removing the bitterness. (10 – 14 days)
This first part of the process is necessary to prepare your olives for brining and to remove the bitterness from the little fruits – fresh olives are not tasty!
- Wash the olives and check all olives for spots, cuts, or holes. Select only the most perfect, firm, unblemished olives. Even the smallest hole can hide a little worm or bug in it, so throw away any olives with imperfections.
- With a sharp paring knife score each olive lengthwise.
- Place scored olives in a large plastic container, or pot of a non-reactive material.
- Cover the olives with clean, cold water. All olives should be submerged, so you can place a plate, or bag filled with water on top of the olives to keep them under.
- Drain and rinse the olives and replace the water with clean, cold water once a day for 10 up to 14 days to remove the bitterness. After 10 days, taste one olive and continue the process for a couple more days if the olives are still bitter.
Step 2: Brining in salt solution. (2 weeks)
In this second part of the process, the olives are cured in a salt-brine to prepare them for storing and to give them that delicious salty flavor they are known for.
- To make the brine, mix 1 part sea salt with 10 parts of water. Make enough brine to fully submerge all of the olives (note: you will need a lot of salt). A simple way to test if your brine is salty enough is to place an unbroken raw egg in the solution. If the egg floats, your brine is salty enough.
- Place your olives in a large glass, or plastic container and pour the brine over the olives. To keep the olives submerged, place a plate, or bag filled with water on top. Leave for 1 week in a cool, dark place.
- After a week in salt-brine, drain the olives and replace the brine with a freshly made salt-brine. Place the weight back on top and leave for another week.
Note: Technically, you can store the olives like this for a long time, but you will probably find them too salty to eat at this point. If you do not wish to marinate your olives, you can keep them in the salt solution and soak rinse them in cold water for a couple of minutes before consuming them.
Step 3: Marinating and storing the olives.
After curing the olives in salt-brine, they are ready to be marinated and stored in olive oil.
Needed: Sterilized glass jars, olive oil, white- or red wine vinegar, aromatics of your choice, such as garlic, oregano, rosemary, chili pepper, lemon (optional).
- Drain the salted olives and wash with fresh, cold water. If the olives are too salty (taste one), place them in fresh, cold water for a couple of minutes to remove some of the salt.
- Transfer the rinsed olives to sterilized glass jars. Really try to squeeze as many of them in there as you can. If you like, you can add some garlic cloves, lemon slices, peppercorns, fresh chilies, or a few sprigs of rosemary, or oregano to flavor the olives.
- Fill the olive-filled jars ¾ of the way with olive oil. To top up the final ¼ of the jar, pour in vinegar until the olives are covered.
- Tightly cover the jars and store in the refrigerator, or a cool, dark place for up to a year.
Wait a couple of days, or a week before eating the olives to make sure the flavours are infused well.
The marinated olives can be stored unopened in a cool, dark place for many months. Enjoy!