Sunday, 31 May 2015

Preserving Olives in brine

This year our olive trees produced a bumper crop. After watching the olives ripen on the tree for some time and thinking "gee, I should pick those", I finally got around to picking them yesterday. After filling 2 buckets I reckoned I had enough.....

We've tried a few ways of preserving olives and this time I thought I'd just use the brine method. I followed the recipe described in the book Preserving the Italian Way by Pietro Demaio, with a few minor changes.

Pietro has some basic rules about pickling olives which I'll mention here:
- Always use fresh unbruised fruit
- Make sure your utensils are clean and are either glass, stainless steel or unchipped enamelware bowls. Copper, brass and aluminum react with the olives and spoil the flavour.
- Fill the jars so the brine is above the olives. If any of the olives are above the brine, they will turn brown, soft and taste mouldy
- Wipe the rim of the jars well to ensure a good seal.

Okay, time to get started. First up, give the olives a good wash.

Then use a sharp knife to slit each olive.  This wasn't mentioned in the recipe but from my online research (yay internet!) it enables the brining process to work much more quickly to extract the bitterness.  

I wasn't sure how much brine solution I'd need for the amount of olives I had so I packed the slitted olives into clean jars to get an idea. The olives should be tightly packed to minimise floating once the brine is added.

I ended up with quite a few jars...

For making the brine, I used the traditional method consisting of salt, water and a raw egg (still in its shell). Warming 5 litres of water in a large pot on the stove, I gently added my egg and then some salt (non-iodised), stirring gently to dissolve the salt.  To get the brine solution to the right concentration, you continue to add salt, stirring to dissolve, until the egg floats.  It's important to use a fresh egg.  This is because the older the egg, the more air is inside it and consequently the less salt is required to get it to float.

Brine at correct concentration

Once the egg is floating, remove it and bring the salty water to the boil.  Once boiled turn off the heat and let it sit for 5 mins.

Then pour the still hot brine into the jars, covering the olives and seal. I filled the brine to the very top of the jars to minimise olives floating.  I had underestimated the amount of brine I needed so had to make up another couple of litres.

The jars, once cool need to be stored in the dark so I put my jars in a cardboard box somewhere cool.

The recipe mentioned adding garlic, lemon, chilli and a fennel flower to each jar (I didn't) and stated that the olives can be eaten after 6 months. However as I slit my olives, they should be ready in less time than that.  

Other recipes I came across suggested that the jars should be agitated a few times a week. The brining time will depend on the ripeness of the olives and how salty you like them you need to taste them every few weeks to determine when they are ready.

Once the olives are ready I'll need to pour off the brine which will now be very bitter. Then they can be eaten straight away or stored. There are a few storage options to choose from - in a new brine solution, in olive oil or in vinegar.

Fingers crossed for success!

Sunday, 17 May 2015

In the garden .....

We were doing a spot of work in the garden today when a few visitors dropped in....

A large flock of little corellas descended on the trees in our street. These are just one of the parrot species that visit our yard. 

Like many native bird species, they are happy to make use of what exotic plants offer them, in this case Liquid ambar. This is the street tree species mentioned in our earlier post on very low firewood miles.

Sunday, 10 May 2015

The Lost Trades Fair

Held in Kyneton Victoria, the Lost Trades Fair promotes manual and traditional trades and crafts that are considered rare and unusual in our modern age. The shift to mass production using inexpensive fossil fuel energy and cheaper, generally less skilled labour has meant that many of these traditional skills are in danger of being lost or forgotten. The fair connects skilled craftspeople with the public, not only by providing an opportunity to purchase their beautiful wares, but also by enabling us to find out more about these trades, and in some cases even to learn them.

Attending the fair was a great opportunity to see skilled makers in action and to be able to talk with them about their craft.  Given that 15000 people attended the 2 day fair, I think it's fair to say that the trades and skills of the artisans were of great interest to the public.   Why?  I guess there are plenty of reasons. Apart from a general curiosity about these trades, perhaps it's a backlash against mass produced, cheap 'stuff' produced by people who may work long hours for the privilege of being underpaid for their efforts? (I hope so). Is it because there is something special about seeing someone craft an item of beauty and function from raw materials? Or an appreciation of the skill of the artisan and what it has taken them to reach their level of skill?  Or the fact that most of us don't actually make much with our hands anymore?  I'm sure the answer is yes to all of the above. 

First up we visited the stalls of the spoon carvers.  Mr PragSust, interested in all things wood, was keen to know what sort of wood they favoured. We were able to chat to  the carvers while watching them at work. 

We love the idea of being able to find high value uses for smallish pieces of timber so we both signed up for a spoon making course. Can't wait!  I would love to be able to make my own wooden spoons.  I reckon that having lovely, hand crafted items for everyday use adds an extra layer of pleasure to life.

The Rundell and Rundell stall was a beauty, showcasing Glen Rundell's beautiful handmade Windsor chairs, stools and Shaker boxes. The attention to detail in every item he makes is just amazing and the chairs are beyond comfortable. I've sat in one and was amazed. Glen runs classes from his workshop - you can check them out on his website.

George Smithwick's coopering stall was also a big hit. George is a 6th generation Cooper so he knows a thing or two about the craft. According to Wikipedia, coopering is the craft of making wooden, staved vessels, bound together with hoops and possessing flat ends or heads. These vessels include wine barrels, wooden buckets, butter churns and casks.  Mr PragSust had done a day-long wooden bucket making course with George and testifies to his skill and patience as a teacher. I was pretty darn impressed with his bucket - not only did it look great, it really did hold water.

The scything blokes from the Southern Scythe Squad (an entertaining and informative WWW site; sustainability needs more WWW sites that get information across without proselytising or preaching) had been hard at work demonstrating the wonder of the scythe. The grass area around their stall was almost at lawn bowls level - testament to the efficiency of their instruments, and of course their skill.  We have our own scythe but were a little hazy on how to sharpen it. Not to worry, the guys gave us a sharpening demo and we were able to buy the tools to do it at home.

There were lots and lots of other stalls - blacksmiths, handmade wooden clocks, stonemasons, cob oven makers, wooden boat and musical instrument makers, bow makers ....and the list goes on.  

Oh yeah, the food at the fair was pretty good too.

So if you have an interest in the handmade, or in useful and beautiful things in general, then the Lost Trades Fair is definitely worth a visit. I'm sure the next one in 2016 will be a ripper.