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A Recipe for Cured Olives

Cured Olives 3

28 Nov A Recipe for Cured Olives

Cured olives were the reason I started this blog.  Not any cured olives, but my grandmother’s cured olives in specific. Words cannot describe how they taste, so I won’t even try. But I will tell you this, if they are the reason I started this blog then they must be something. Or am I stating the obvious?

I finally got to learn her secret this month. I had been waiting impatiently for the first rain of the season so that the olives are ready for picking, but to no avail, real rain never came. It’s almost December now, and with only a drizzle in sight the olives were picked sans the required showers.

I don’t know where to begin my story, not because this recipe is so special, but because my grandmother is the best storyteller there is. I’m not just saying this because she is my grandmother; I’m saying this because her tales of pet bears, whirling dervishes, purple-eyed children and halls of hologram mirrors are difficult to compete with.

My grandmother’s story about when she started to cure olives began at a time when Jordan had rain and olives were picked in early September. The real story, however, was in how she makes the olives. I can’t say that I was expecting clinical step-by-step instructions, because there is nothing clinical nor step-by-step about the way my grandmother tells her stories, but I must confess that I had secretly hoped for something straightforward (it would have made the process of documenting this recipe so much easier!)

What I got was nothing near simple; even though the recipe is very easy it requires a significant investment: time.  Her recipe started off with her recounting how she found the olive farmer she buys her olives from and continued in similar fashion, sealing the jar with her secret: fresh lemon tree leaves from her garden (and her garden only!) impart the slightest flavor to the olives, making their addition a requisite step to making any cured olives special.

I made the olives with her; I don’t know how many kilos we used, because there must have been about 50 jars lined up on her kitchen floor ready to be filled with mountains of bright green olives. She did not measure anything of course, a bit of this and a bit of that. When I asked her to measure things out, she said, “Just use your eyes like I do.”  That obviously didn’t work. In the end, we compromised. Using her eye measurement techniques, she would pour each ingredient into a separate bowl so I could measure it, and we combined them after everything was measured and documented. Needless to say, her measurements were consistent with each batch we made. Incredible!

From bright green to olive green, the olives ripen in the brine and come out as gleaming little morsels with hints of oil on their surface. Bitter and meaty, once cured, each olive breaks up and falls off the pit like small tender pieces of juicy felt as soon as you bite into it.

Recipe

For the purposes of this recipe, I have used a 2.5-liter glass jar. The ingredients were measured accordingly. However, this recipe can be scaled up or down, depending on how many jars of olives you want to make.

Ingredients

1.5 kg small green olives

2 lemons, cut into small wedges

3 medium green chili peppers, stems removed

1 lemon tree leaf (optional)

Salt-water solution (instructions below)

For the salt-water solution:

  • 2 liters mineral water
  • ¾ cups coarse sea salt
  • 75 ml fresh lemon juice
  • 2 eggs

Tools:

  • Olive crushing machine or mallet
  • 1 large basin
  • 1 large bowl
  • 1 sterilized glass jar

Method

Step 1: Soften the Olives

After buying the olives, you need to either run them through an olive crushing machine (found at most green grocers in the Middle East), or pound them with a mallet to soften them. You can also make small horizontal incisions into the olives after softening them with the mallet.

Step 2: Soak the Olives

  • Soak the olives in a basin filled with cold water for 2 days (48 hours), changing the water every 12 hours. This step absorbs the bitterness out of the olives.
  • After two days, sample one olive to make sure it is ready for curing. It should still taste a little bitter, but the bitterness will be bearable. If you feel that the olives are still a little too bitter, soak them for another day (24 hours), changing the water every twelve hours.

Step 3: Notes to read while the olives soak.

  • The amount of solution you will need depends on how many jars of olives you want to make. Therefore, the salt to water ratio used above can be increased/ decreased depending on how many jars you’re going to make.
  • The ratio of the salt-water solution varies depending on the quality of the salt and the sodium content of the water. The eggs are used to measure the saltiness of the water.
  • Before using the eggs, make sure they are clean. You also need to test them to make sure they are good eggs. To test the eggs, just submerge them in a bowl of cold water; if they sink to the bottom, they are good. If for any reason the eggs float or stand upright (floating indicates that the eggs are rotten), replace the eggs.

Step 4: Make the solution…

  • Pour the water in a bowl and place the eggs in the bowl. Gradually stir the salt into the water, one tablespoon at a time. Make sure all the salt dissolves.
  • Continue adding salt until one of the eggs begins to float up to the surface (once you see a trace of the egg bobbing up near the surface), stop adding the salt.
  • If for any reason the eggs do not float after adding all the salt, add some salt more until one of them floats.
  • Once the water is salty, take the eggs out of the solution and stir in the lemon juice. At this point, your solution is ready.

Step 5: Cure the Olives!

  • Start filling the jars with the olives, adding a few lemon wedges and one chili pepper every couple of layers. You can add more chili peppers if you would like spicier olives.
  • Do not fill the jar completely; make sure there is a space of approximately 2 cm between the olives and the mouth of the jar.
  • Next, slowly pour the salt solution into the jar, and fill it until the water just covers the olives.
  • Finally, if you have access to fresh lemon tree leaves, place one on top of the olives and press the jar shut. Cure the olives for approximately 2 months.

Notes:

  • After a few days, open the jar and pour in about  two tablespoons of olive oil to seal the water layer.
  • Also, after two weeks, open the jar to make sure the water still covers the olives, if the water level has decreased, top up the jar with some salt-water solution.
25 Comments
  • Yasmeen
    Posted at 11:09h, 29 November Reply

    Love it! My favourite post yet!

  • Jad
    Posted at 17:10h, 29 November Reply

    Great job! This all looks delicious! I will pass on to the more sophisticated cooks in my family.

    Keep up the good work

  • Sanjeeta kk
    Posted at 07:33h, 02 December Reply

    Wow, what a visual delight. Love to see fresh olives. Like the presentation for preserving olives. Wish I could get some fresh olives at my place :(
    First time to this beautiful place, hope to come here more often for these lovely treats. Best wishes.

  • Suleima
    Posted at 02:27h, 04 December Reply

    Leeno,I love your description,you took me to Mami s kitchen 30 years ago when I watched her preparing the olives.Your pictures are amazing. .I am so proud of you.

  • Lana
    Posted at 06:05h, 04 December Reply

    Hi, I so enjoyed your site because I also learned how to pack olives from my Lebanese grandmother. I have packed in jars for many years and have had them last over 2 years on the shelf, I am wondering why every site says you must use the olives within 6 months or so or refrigerate them. How long do your olives last–now I’m paranoid, though, for generations we’ve never lost a family member because of our olives! I make 80 jars sometimes. I’d appreciate hearing from anyone who has stored their cured olives that long.

    • Leen
      Posted at 09:28h, 05 December Reply

      We make our olives annually, because it’s become a tradition. But in either case all our olives are usually eaten by the end of the year! I still think that olives that are cured at home can probably last a year or two. I personally think they get better as they age!

    • Asha
      Posted at 00:02h, 07 December Reply

      Thanks for the reply. One more question: I let my olives go a little too long in the bucket “wash” and some of them got almost mushy–no bad taste and I actually ate some and was fine but I have packed all the ones that were not as soft. Do you think they will be okay in the jars or will they soften more and go bad now? They are delicious.

      • Leen
        Posted at 00:47h, 07 December Reply

        I think they’ll be fine — as long as the olives are good before curing they should not go bad once in the brine.

    • Janet
      Posted at 00:46h, 09 October Reply

      Hi Lana & Leen,

      Looking forward to this olive recipe…sounds wonderful! Do either of you can your cured olives before storing them or do you just store them in the brine, unrefrigerated? Thanks!

  • yasmine n
    Posted at 11:45h, 06 December Reply

    amazing, really, such nice stories as well as recipes! this is my favorite one so far …

  • Maha
    Posted at 15:07h, 06 December Reply

    I am in awe =) Leeno you are one of a kind. I’m going to so try out your recipes! Keep up the great work! xxx

  • Superyalda
    Posted at 18:10h, 13 December Reply

    Beautiful! Unfortunately, I had already brine cured my olives by the time I found your blog. I was searching for the “next step” so I’m following your grandmother’s layering and packing recipe. Your story is wonderful. Thank you for sharing! I’ll let you know how my olives turn out. I have 6 kilos!

  • Lara D
    Posted at 17:29h, 22 December Reply

    Wonderful blog, Will follow closely. Love your everything about olives.
    Lara

  • Hala Siraj
    Posted at 17:16h, 24 December Reply

    Leen this is amazing!

  • Dina
    Posted at 14:59h, 02 January Reply

    YUM!

  • jen
    Posted at 04:16h, 29 January Reply

    You have such beautiful photographs on your site! My husband and I picked a bucket full of olives in December (They were small and green and looked exactly like the closeup photo of the olive on the the tree on this page). He crushed them with a rolling pin and put them to soak. We changed the water every couple days. I just tasted one and they are still bitter, over a month later! Do we have any hope?

    • Leen
      Posted at 00:35h, 01 February Reply

      Jen, thanks for your message!

      You definitely have hope. Green olives will always retain their bitterness even after being soaked. Mine still had a bite to them after a couple of days in water. Unless your olives are unbearably bitter, I think you should go ahead and start the curing process. Once in the brine, the olives sweeten up so I wouldn’t worry about them being very bitter. That said, some varieties of olives are more bitter than others. Let me know how things work out for you and if you have any more questions.

  • Waleed J
    Posted at 17:34h, 21 March Reply

    Finally found your blog Leen and I am very impressed. Both the commentary and photography are fantastic! This is exactly how my mother prepares olives, thanks for sharing habibti.

  • Jo
    Posted at 16:09h, 26 September Reply

    I happened to stumble on your blog which has very good information on curing olives. Well, I have just a question. I intend curing green olives using the water/coarse salt solution method and after about 35 days will bottle them in Extra Virgin Oil. Well, my question is this: Can I pit the olives before putting them in the water/salt solution or just before putting them in oil. Thanks for this information.

  • Layla
    Posted at 11:07h, 04 November Reply

    I am an American living in Palestine and just finished picking olives with my mother-in-law. I was looking for a good easy recipe to help my cure the olives, thank you so much this is exactly what I needed. Love the pictures.

  • kathleen
    Posted at 23:21h, 17 January Reply

    Wondering if i omit the peppers if I will run into any problems?. My kids don’t like spicy too much. Ever added garlic or herbs instead?

    Thanks!

  • Pauline
    Posted at 23:11h, 17 March Reply

    I was inspired to look up the method of curing olives after moving into my new house recently… the fence line is all olive trees and they have started turning black and dropping off, so figured they must be ready! I picked a couple of kilos in the weekend. ive also got lemon trees in the garden so this is perfect! After much research, this seems to be the best I have found. Easy instructions and they sound delicious with the lemon and chilli options. Very excited to see the results… Im presently on day 2 of the soaking process.
    Thank you for sharing!

  • Mary Ellen
    Posted at 22:35h, 23 July Reply

    I have two five year old olive trees in my backyard which are both bearing LOTS of olives this year, for the first time! Your recipe sounds delicious and something even I can do. When are the olives ready to be picked? Regarding “crushing” them, how much? Just to soften them? Cutting a slit makes it easier? I have a wonderful lemon tree, as well, so I am ready to go when the fruit is ready. Give me some tips on determining readiness.

  • Sarah
    Posted at 05:12h, 14 October Reply

    Hi, this recipe looks divine and I plan to start on it tonight! I was just wondering if I really need to use mineral water? The only mineral water we have here is carbonated.

  • Patrick
    Posted at 07:14h, 01 November Reply

    This is the closets recipe to my Grandmother from Batroun in Northern Lebanon. There 2 variations are:

    1) my Grandmother soaks the Olives for 18 to 24 hrs in fresh water, this way they remain more bitter (I like them bitter) and the olives stay firmer.

    2) After the soaking period, they are drained and mixed/sprinkled with coarse sea salt for about 24 hrs, stirring/shaking them at least twice during the 24 hrs. Then they are ready for packing/preserving in the brine etc… as your grandmother’s recipe.

    I used to put all the spices, lemons, pepper, oregano etc… but the last 10 years or so, I decided to omit them and spice them as I need to when I open the jar. This way I can have greater variety.

    The above step 2) according to my Grandmother –> the addition salt helps preserve the olives longer. I’ve had olives that lasted about 18 month, still nice and firm. I normally use Mazanillo olives (I like the medium size the most).

    Thank you for sharing the recipe and the beautiful mouth watering photos.

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