Each year we get many calls from folks asking how they can cure olives. The process is actually very simple and yields a delicious treat. There are a surprising number of olive trees growing in the foothill area. Many are being farmed for the production of olive oil, but there are also many being grown in home landscapes. Rather than let all of the fruit go to waste, why not try curing them yourself?
Choose fruit that is green, straw-colored, or cherry red. This process will produce straw yellow to green or brown olives. Do not use black ripe fruit because it is likely to become too soft. Prepare a solution of 2 ounces (about 4 level tablespoons) of lye to each gallon of water. Carefully read the lye container for important safety information. Use a glass, heavy plastic, or stoneware container. Never use aluminum or galvanized because the metal will dissolve and make the olives poisonous. Stir until well dissolved. Cover the olives with the lye solution early in the morning. Place a towel or cloth over them and push it down tightly to keep the olives submerged.
Stir the olives with a wooden or stainless steel spoon every 2-3 hours until the lye reaches the pits. This usually takes 10 to 12 hours. You can judge the amount of penetration by cutting sample olives to the pit with a sharp knife at 1 to 2 hour intervals. The lye solution discolors the flesh to a yellowish green color. If the lye has not reached the pits by bedtime, remove the lye solution and cover the olives with water. Next morning, pour off the water and cover the olives with a new half strength lye solution. Let stand until lye reaches pits completely.
Frequently, this lye treatment is insufficient. Some olives neutralize most of the lye so that it fails to penetrate to the pits. In such cases, prepare a fresh solution to replace the old solution. When the solution has reached the pits, remove olives. Rinse the olives twice in cold water, then cover them with cold water. Change the water four times each day until you can no longer taste the lye in the olives. This may take as long as 7 or 8 days. Expose the olives to the air as little as possible during treatment.
Prepare a salt brine containing 4 ounces (about 6 ½ level tablespoons) of salt per gallon of water. Dissolve the salt thoroughly and cover the olives with the solution. Let stand for 2 days. The olives are then ready for use. Store them in a cold place, preferably in the refrigerator. They should be consumed in about two weeks. Canning of olives is not safe. If olives become moldy, soft, or bad smelling, do not eat them.
My favorite way to enjoy these olives is to drain them, toss with olive oil and finely minced garlic. Please contact the Farm Advisor’s office at 754-6477 or http://cecalaveras.ucdavis.edu with your agricultural questions.