20 11 2008
Italian Olives

Italian Olives

My friend Laura recently asked me what to do with all the olives she’s got lying around and it made me think back to a book that a colleague I met at the CIA, Lynn Alley, wrote, “Lost Arts: A Celebration of Culinary Traditions.”  Lynn says that there are many opinions regarding olive curing but three main methods are out there.  Dry Salt Curing, Lye Curing and Brining.

The Dry Salt Cure

These are those olives that you find that are wrinkly, smaller and black.  Lynn says to use a fabric bag with a drawstring top, add the same weight of noniodized table salt as the amount of olives you have.  Pour them into the bag covering them with salt evenly and then completely with more salt.  Hang the bag where the liquid can drain and mix weekly for four weeks or until they are not bitter.  Rinse and let dry then pack in oil.

Lye Cured

Lye is highly caustic and can burn you, but it removes the bitter glucosides from the olives fast.  Seems weird to me that such a dangerous substance would be used to make food, but…  Lynn suggests letting professionals do this method for canned olives.


Lynn suggests placing the olives in cold water and using a plate to keep them down, change the water daily for ten days.  Then add 1 cup of uniodized salt per gallon of water and brine them for four weeks, changing the solution weekly.  After the inside flesh is brown you can keep them in a weaker brine, with 1/2 cup salt per gallon of water.  It may take 2-3 months for them to be edible, taste to see but don’t eat the mushy ones.  Rinse them well before eating.

I highly recommend getting Lynn’s book as it has great olive recipes, more detailed information about olive curing as well as great chapters on how to make mustard, vinegar, cheese and preserves at home.  Lost Arts: A Celebration of Culinary Traditions, Ten Speed Press, 2000 by Lynn Alley




3 responses

21 11 2008

Thanks! I actually came across her recipe in my quest, but managed to screw it up all the same… which is to say, I neglected to soak the olives in fresh water (much less fresh water, changed daily) before brining. Instead, I soaked them overnight, then slit them length-wise (per some of the other recipes I’d come across) and set them up in small batches of varying brines–grey sea salt, herbal sea salts and peppercorns, etc.–and a garlic, fresh herb and olive oil mix, which I understand is gonna just about triple the time needed to cure the little bastards. Fun.

I’ll keep you posted on their overall edibility, though for now, all I can report is that 1) they’re all starting to at least SMELL like olives, and 2) the oil-cured batch is way better looking. Thanks again, Rebecca! xxo

5 12 2008
Morton Leslie

Actually, lye curing of olives isn’t that big a deal. The USDA and UC Davis have pamphlets, it’s not a strong lye or dangerous solution of NaOH that you make and use. Just carefully measure it out and rinse the measure and your hands if you get them in the solution.

What it does require is some attention during the lye soak to follow it’s progress. After maybe five hours start cutting an olive every hour to watch the progress of the lye solution as it penetrates to the seed. And don’t bother with lye curing if the olives have color as pictured. They will be soft. Pick them early and all green for crisp, crunchy lye cured olives. Also, use the strong salt solution for preservation…you just have to plan ahead and dump out the brine and replace it with tap water and overnight the excessive saltiness will come out. If you can’t get the free pamphlet here’s the recipe from UC Davis. http://www.oliveoilsource.com/olive_recipes_.htm

9 12 2008


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