Friday, September 21, 2012

Foraging Olives- Homemade Pickled Olives and Olive Leaf Medicine

One of my favorite things to do is to start chatting with older women, ideally non Americans, about their life as a child, and about various food preparation methods from when they were growing up. I find I learn so much this way, much more "real information" than I'd get if I'd just open a history book or a cookbook, even if it was with a focus on the same place and era. This is how I've discovered so much about various traditional food preparation methods from around the world, recipes that are usually frugal, healthy, and tasty.

My old neighbor was a 70 year old Tunisian lady, who spoke more French than the local language, and absolutely no English. I speak maybe a few words in French (despite having learned 2 years of French in high school), and my grasp of the local language isn't the best, but even so, this lady and I would sit on our shared porch and chat for hours about her childhood in Tunisia. One of the memories she shared with me was about picking and curing olives together with her family as a kid.
We have lots of olive trees in my community, most of them public property, and filled with plump green and purple olives. I got inspired by my neighbor to cure my own olives, especially since there were so many ones just ripe for the picking, and since store bought canned olives are not nearly cheap, and we enjoy eating our olives. Two years ago I picked enough olives to fill one mason jar, last year I was pregnant and too nauseous and wiped out to even think of doing something like picking and curing olives, and this year I decided to finally pick and cure olives. I've taken photos of the process to share with you a bit more than just what the standard olive pickling recipes online look like.

P.S. You know you have a reputation when your friend tells you she bought olives at the local farmer's market to pickle because she said she knew that I had a recipe for making olives on my site. Unfortunately that wasn't the case, and it isn't so easy to find decent information about pickling olives online, which is why I'm including this information.

To start off, you have to know how to identify an olive tree. It's an evergreen tree, meaning it doesn't lose its leaves in the winter. (Hey all you Americans, its not just the pines and firs that are evergreen, like I and other Americans were taught in elementary school!) The tree is generally short- you don't typically find olive trees over 10 or 15 feet tall. They have thick, gnarly trunks, and their leaves are thin, dark green ovals with a silvery/grey hue with one vein down the center. Throughout the summer they grow fruit- olives that are fleshy on the outside, with a hard pit on the middle.

Its important that you know that there are many different types of olives, some juicier, some plumper, some more bitter, some oilier, but whatever the species, both green olives and purple/black olives come from the same exact tree- purple olives are just ripe green olives. If you want green olives, you pick them at the end of the summer, in August or September, and if you want black/purple olives, you pick them at the end of September/early October.
Green olives take longer to be ready. Purple olives and half green/half purple olives can be ready in a week and won't be covered in the scope of this post, per se, other than to say that you pick them, clean them, cut a slit in them, and either soak them in salted vinegar brine for about a week and a half, changing the water every day, or put them in a jar with some coarse salt and no water, pouring off the liquid every day, and in about a week and a half to two weeks your olives should be ready.

Olive trees have many uses. Of course you can pickle olives, and make olive oil from the olives and pits via crushing. I don't know how to make my own olive oil, but I assume it can't be too difficult with the right tools, like an ancient Biblical looking stone olive press. No seriously, I'm sure you can do it at home with your own equipment... (Youtube to the rescue! Apparently you can!) But honestly, it is too much work for me to want to bother.
But what most people don't know is that olive leaves have medicinal uses as well. Olive leaves are medicinal- they're antibacterial, antiviral, and antifungal. To get the medicinal benefits, either make the olive leaves into tea or a tincture (by soaking in vodka for 6 weeks or more), or even use it crushed and applied to an infected area. I recently had success getting rid of a pus filled infection by applying some olive leaves and plantain leaves which I chewed up and then taped onto the infected area. By morning, the infection was completely gone. Olive leaf tea and tincture is also supposed to lower cholesterol and high blood pressure Of course, consult a medical authority you trust before deciding to replace your statin regimen with olive leaf tea, but its important to note that the standard medical establishment will admit that olive leaves have this effect, and therefore warn you not to take olive leaf tea/tincture together with statins and blood pressure medication.

But now, on to curing olives.

Find a tree with large, plump olives. Some trees' olives are very small, and they are mostly seed, not much flesh, and not very tasty. You want olives that are close to the thickness of an adult thumb.

Pick a bunch of olives. They will be a light green color, roughly the color of a Granny Smith apple.

If your olives are organic, meaning they haven't been sprayed with pesticides, you'll find that the olives may be very buggy. Not exactly sure why, because olives uncured taste quite bitter and nasty. Try it, if you don't believe me. But anyhow, the bugs seem to love the olives.

This is what a buggy olive looks like. Se that indented brown spot, or rather many brown spots?

Sometimes you're able to just cut away the buggy spot. But if you cut the buggy area, you often will see that the bug left a tunnel of brown "bugginess" all the way through the olive. Keep on cutting until you see no more brown trail. You may end up having nothing left of the olives....

Sometimes you can't see a brown spot, but there is an indented strip on the olive. This usually means that a bug came in through a part that you can't see, and ate away at the olive from the inside, which is why it is indented. Cut away a bit of that and you'll usually find your brown icky trail.

Once you've removed all the buggy olives, or while you're going through all the olives to take out the buggy ones, take a knife, and cut a slit or two into the side of the olive.

Put your olives in a glass jar. As you see, I picked enough olives this time around to fill two mason jars, and half of another mason jar.

Cover your olives with water and let them sit on the counter or your shelves. Every day or two, pour off the water, and replace it. The olives, through the slit, leach their bitterness into the water this way.

The water may be murky and ucky looking, but it will start smelling very strongly of olives.

The olives will lose their bright green color, and will become more like the color we recognize as "olive green." See the color the olives are now in this picture? They still need another day or two of leaching. 

Once the olives are all a darker green, make a mixture of salt and water, enough salt so that when you put a whole raw egg in the water, a little bit of the shell pokes out of the water. The ratio of water to salt that I used was 5.5 cups of water with 6 heaping tablespoons of salt.

To your water/salt mixture, you can add a pinch of citric acid (I did that last time), or some vinegar (I used 1 cup of apple cider vinegar for every 5.5 cups of salt water, but you can also use white vinegar or white wine vinegar). You can also add lemon slices, garlic slices, and spices such as bay leaves, oregano, thyme, rosemary, peppercorns, etc... I used a mix of all the above, but left one jar without any spices.

Put it all in your jar, and top it off with a layer of olive oil. This ensures that no bad bacteria, etc... get into the olives.

Cover, and leave to pickle for at least 6 weeks, perhaps longer.


Hopefully I'll let you know how mine turn out, but I'm sure they'll be wonderful.

Are you an olive fan? How much do they cost locally? Do you buy them usually or pick your own, or neither? What do you prefer, black or green olives?
Do olive trees grow near you? 
Does this seem like something you'd try out?
Did you know about the medicinal benefits of olive leaves?

1 comment:

  1. I live in northern ireland and was out looking for some dew berry and rubus and noticed that we have olives growing all over the place esp.old disused lanes couldnt beleave it nice ones to have about same picked as u they near black though going to copy as above il let u no how they turn out thanks


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