It’s Autumn, and that means olive season!
If you’re lucky enough to have olive trees in your yard, street or even around the community, you’ve likely wondered how to transform that bitter little fruit into something consumable and delicious. Our experiments over the years have led us to put together this handy little guide with options for everyone from the time-poor to the determined and dedicated.
But first… when to pick your olives
Before we launch into your options, let’s chat harvesting! We’ve found the ideal time to pick olives is when they are nearly but not quite ripe; when starting to turn from green to purple but are not yet fully black. If you give them a squeeze, they should feel not too hard or not too soft (similar to an apricot or peach!)
You’ll likely find that olives on a tree ripen at different time, so our rule is that once over 50% of olives are in this transition stage from green to purple (but not fully black), get picking! It’s likely that 20% will be under-ripe and 20% over-ripe (and the remaining 10% on the ground!) but if you pick them all at this stage the variations should balance out.
Important first steps
There are two really important things to note before proceeding to set yourself up for success;
1. Sort your olives!
Spoiled fruit (damaged, diseased, deformed, bruised, squashed etc) will ruin the batch and should be discarded immediately. This includes fruit picked up off the ground.
2. Preserve immediately!
If the preserving process doesn’t begin within 48 hours of the harvest, olives will begin to oxidise and spoil. Again, this will ruin the batch and all your hard work picking them will go to waste.
Now that we’ve covered the basics, let’s dive into how you can use your olives!
OPTION 1: PRESERVE AT HOME WITH THE WATER + BRINE METHOD
-Most effort, most reward!-
Once your olives are harvested and sorted, start by scoring each one individually with a knife. This lets the brine get right in and speeds up the process dramatically.
Stage 2: Water
The water stage removes the bitterness from the olives and produces a sweeter end product. Although time consuming, it will also mean olives are ready to eat sooner!
Follow these steps;
Choose a vessel you can drain easily. This may be an esky or cooler jug with a spout for larger harvests or a simple bucket or tub for smaller batches.
Add olives and fill with water.
Drain the water and repeat step two daily for 14 days.
TIP: set an alarm in your phone as a reminder. If you forget a day just pick back up the next day.
Stage 3: Brine
Once the water stage is complete, it’s time to start brining. We use the 10% brine method, where you’ll need water and a good, non-iodised rock or sea salt. This stage can take 3-10 weeks.
Pick a storage container like a glass jar, plastic container or bucket with a lid.
Calculate the amount of water you’ll need. A general rule of thumb is that you’ll need enough to fill ⅓ of the container.
Calculate the amount of salt you’ll need. As the name suggests, you’ll need 1 part salt to 10 parts water. So if you have a 6L container, you’ll likely need 2L water and 200g salt.
Boil the water, add the salt and stir to dissolve. Wait until the water cools down before proceeding. TIP: to make a quick lukewarm brine, add salt to a separate container, boil ¼ of the water, add to salt and stir to dissolve, then pour in the remaining ¾ of water.
Store the container somewhere dark with a stable temperature (like the bottom of a cupboard).
Leave untouched for 3 weeks, then taste an olive. If you’re happy, move on to the flavour stage, otherwise leave the olives for a week before trying again.
NOTE: you will likely see a layer of scum during this period. The olives are still good! Simply drain the brine, rinse the olives and pour in a new brine before resuming the waiting game.
Stage 4: Flavouring
Now for the fun part - experimenting with different herbs, flavours and ingredients! If transferring into smaller jars do so now, then play around with some of these ideas;
Dry salted - Add a layer of salt then a layer of brined olives and repeat until the jar is full. Shake and turn every other day, it will become slushy but that’s ok! Taste first at three weeks and when you’re happy, remove from salt and eat straight away or store with herbs.
50:50 vinegar and water mix
Submerge in olive oil
A new 10% brine mix
Try adding flavours to any of the above like oregano, rosemary, chilli, lemon, lime or garlic
Smoke the olives
Our favourite recipe calls for rosemary, chilli and a bay leaf topped with a dash of red wine vinegar and another of oil!
TIP: Always add a little olive oil at the top of the jar to prevent oxygen from reaching the olives.
OPTION 2: PRESERVE AT HOME USINE BRINE METHOD
-Less effort but longer wait time-
Skip the water stage and go straight from scoring to the brining. This method involves far less effort but will take the longest amount of time - anywhere from six weeks to six months - and the olives are more likely to remain slightly bitter.
Simply follow the instructions from Stage 3: Brine, but undertake your first tasting around six weeks. Once happy with the taste you can go straight to Stage 4: Flavouring!
OPTION 3: DONATE TO OUR PRESERVING PROGRAM
If you lack the time, patience or maybe just want the warm and fuzzies from helping out a good cause, you can donate your olives to our preserving program. Our team of glorious volunteers will preserve them using the water and brine methods over the course of 5-10 weeks before jarring them up with a mix of fresh flavours ready to sell.
All proceeds go straight back into the preserving program, which has hubs both in Melbourne and Dili, Timor-Leste that work to minimise food waste and reduce food insecurity.
OPTION 4: PRESS YOUR OLIVES INTO OIL
-If the timing is right-
If your trees are able to hold out, we have an exciting fourth option for you!
Over May and June, in collaboration with 3000 Acres and Ceres, we are running the second annual Olives to Oil Festival. Across several weekends, you’ll be able to deliver your locally harvested olives to one of the drop-off points to be pressed into oil and collected a few weeks after to enjoy at home.
The key thing to note is that olives must be picked no earlier than the Friday for Saturday or Sunday drop-off, or the entire batch may spoil.
Sunday 15th May: Drop off at Links Community Garden, Lalor (olives to be picked on/after Friday 13th May)
Sunday 29th May: Drop off at CERES, Brunswick East (olives to be picked on/after Friday 27th May)
Saturday 18 + Sunday 19 June: Drop off at Corner Store Network, Oakleigh (olives to be picked on/after Friday 17 June)
HAPPY OLIVE-ING TEAM!
No matter which option you choose, we wish you the best in your olive endeavours! It will likely take a few harvests to really get in your groove so don’t be discouraged if things don’t go to plan the first time around.
And if you’d like to skip straight to the fun part - the eating!!! - we will have plenty of absolutely amazing and fresh olives and oils available in our shop really soon. Stay tuned.