I am making olives!
Well, to be totally specific, the trees on the campus here — 1500 of them, apparently mostly heritage varieties, planted as a gift by ye olde settlers — made the olives. But I picked some, from the trees that overhang a bikepath I frequent, and now I am attempting to cure them.
I did not, for those who are questioning the moral implications of taking campus property, take that many (perhaps 5 lbs?) nor do I think they’ll be missed — the ground there is literally covered in olive pits from olive crops past, and a passerby who stopped to talk to me said that they were just left to rot on those particular trees. So I don’t feel bad.
They are definitely ripe right now (the California harvest lasts from Sept.-Dec., depending on variety), though I don’t know if I got them at the ideal time, and I don’t know what varieties I got. Some look like Kalamata, and some look like maybe manzanillo. But it’s hard to say. The trees aren’t marked, I couldn’t find a guide, and there’s a lot of olive varieties in the world.
Here is what the harvest looked like (on my messy kitchen table)**:
They are really rather beautiful on the tree. They grow like cherries, in little clumps of two and three. Here is a slightly more artistic shot, showing twigs with olives:
The thing about fresh olives, pretty as they may be, is that they are incredibly bitter and inedible, infused with a compound that tastes poisonous but is in fact just very very very bitter. This compound must be removed before they become delicious cocktail snacks. There are a variety of ways to do this at home: lye and water, water and brine, just brine, or salt curing. I did my research, found a bunch of websites, but am using as my bible the very useful UCD Ag Extension publication, Olives: Safe Methods for Home Pickling (.pdf). I recommend it if the need ever arises for you.
Some of the olives, having been sliced into as recommended, are now on day two of soaking in a distilled water bath. They will continue soaking in the bath (in a big canner on my stove) for another week or so; then they will get pickled in a basic brine (salt, water and vinegar) for a month, then have flavors added. A smaller batch of olives is in a salt pack in a tupperware sitting on top of my dryer; I’m hoping that they will turn into salt-cured olives, though I am more skeptical about the salt-curing process actually working. The water bath ones are showing a clear difference as the water slowly turns purple and scummy and I change it out every morning, while the salted ones look exactly the same: “oh hai”, I imagine the olives saying, “you seem to have packed us in salt and cheesecloth! I love it! Is this for our complexions?”
More updates and photos (and photos of trees etc) as events warrant, though olives cure veeeerrry slowly. I’m pretty sure that watching grass grow is actually more exciting, which is frustrating because I am IMPATIENT and I want delicious olives NOW! I guess I’ll have to wait. I’m hoping they will be ready by Christmas.
Home food preservation FTW!
* aptly coined by
** for the highly observant: yes, that is a CharlieTicket in the background; I keep hoping that I’ll need to go back to Boston AT ANY MOMENT and I want to be prepared.