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!

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