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Picking Olives at the Police Station

I’ll never forget my partners face when he picked an olive from the tree for the first time and tried it! As those of you who have experienced this know, olives straight from the tree are disgusting and need to have the bitter oleuropeins removed. That is why the olives you buy have already had the oleuropeins removed through soaking, curing and fermenting.

Where I currently live in Mt Maunganui, New Zealand, the climate is coastal and cool temperate; warm and dry in summer and cool and wet in winter (without frost) and alot of people plant olive trees in their urban gardens as ornamental trees that do well in our mediterranean-like climate.

Thanks Mr. Policeman for the Olives

Mr Policeman has planted a beautiful big olive tree next to the footpath and it is loaded with olives after a really dry summer. I have added it to the For Greenies Communal Food Plants Google map. Olives in New Zealand are ready to pick in Autumn, around April/May when some of the green fruit is beginning to turn purple. Curious passers-by asked us what they were and were surprised to know they were olives. As we explained the process of curing them before eating we had lost about half of them. This is because curing olives requires time and patience, and alot of it!

How to Cure/Ferment Olives

This is the first time I have cured olives and all of the information I have read requires soaking of the olives in a saltwater brine solution, for up to six months, changing the brine every so often.

To make sure your brine is the right saltiness, an egg that floats to the surface signifies the correct salt to water ratio. I tried saltwater straight from the sea but even that wasn’t salty enough, and I thought it might not be clean enough either. The water needs to be clean and organism free, so boiled water is best, and this helps to dissolve the salt too!

Wash any dirt and bird poo off your olives and completely submerge them in your cold brine in a clean sterile jar or large narrow-necked container. It is important the olives do not make contact with the air, as that encourages unwanted bacteria to grow, so you need to weigh them down somehow. I used some insect screen and shot glasses to keep them under water. You may have something else suitable. I also read that some people like to add olive oil to the vessel to create an air barrier on the surface of the water.

They are then put away in a cool dark place to soak and ferment for up to six months. The longer they ferment the less bitter they will be.

Fermentation

I noticed after a couple of weeks, the olives start to ferment and bubble. It is important to release the build up of gas every day or so (depending on your climate and speed of fermentation) or else you could have an explosion on your hands. Unless, instead of a sealed lid, you use some close weave fabric and a rubber band to cover the jar/container.

After about a month or two in brine, they are edible, and not only will they taste better than bought olives, but there is satisfaction in knowing that they haven’t been flown across the planet to get to my plate. I tried an olive after a month soaking in brine – pretty good and no sign of bitterness.

 

The Basics

  1. wash olives in fresh water to clean
  2. make a 10% brine solution with clean water and sea salt to cover the olives in their sterilised container
  3. open lid to release gas DAILY (if weather is warm)
  4. change brine solution MONTHLY
  5. eat after 2+ months depending on taste
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