Olive trees are everywhere in Perth, in people’ gardens, in parks and on street verges. This time of the year, they are laden with olives and often they are not being picked. I do not know why. Foraging is a wonderful thing. It is local food for the taking. I am always thinking about food miles and food you have picked yourself has the least by far. There are shortages of food all around the world and yet we, in rich countries, ignore fruit laden trees but will buy the same produce from half way round the world in supermarkets.
So this year, pick the olives. If there is a laden tree in a public space, pick a bowl full. If it is in someone’s garden and they haven’t picked them, knock on their door and ask if you can. We have done this and the answer is invariably ‘yes’.
As we won’t be around for our normal picking time this year, we were concerned that the birds will eat all our olives before we get back so we decided to, at least, pick a bowl full for curing to ensure we had some. Normally, we make oil with the bulk of our olives; maybe this year we will not be able to.
I learned this technique from my friend, James, who was taught it by a colleague of his many years ago. Where the colleague learnt it, I do not know. It is quite time consuming cutting the olives but can easily be done whilst watching TV. I have used other techniques that require much less work but this is the one with which we will start.
- Wash olives.
- With a small knife, make 3 or 4 small cuts in each olive.
- Put olives in a bowl and cover with water.
- Soak in water for 6 days. Each day, rinse olives in clean water then put them back into bowl with new water.
- On the 6th day, pack olives in sterilised jars with fresh herbs. This technique requires a lot of herbs. For this bowl of olives, I used:
- 1½ heads of garlic
- 18 x 15cm sticks of rosemary, broken in 2
- 2 punnets of oregano
- lots of bay leaves
- Make a brine solution of 125g of salt per litre of water (I needed 1.5 litres for my amount of olives).
- Fill jars about 2/3 full with brine. Top with vinegar and then put about 5ml of olive oil on top to seal.
- Seal jar.
My instructions say leave the olives for a minimum of 2 – 3 months but I usually leave for much longer than that before I start eating them. Otherwise, I find them much too bitter. We are eating last year’s now. Refrigerate olives after opening.
If using the olives in cooking, merely take out the required amount and rinse them.
If eating as part of an antipasto, rinse olives and then marinate in flavoured olive oil. My favourite is crushed garlic, finely grated lemon, lime or orange zest, juice of whichever you used, finely chopped rosemary and cracked peppercorns.