Welcome to my tales of cookery school, food and travel

The first 30+ posts of this blog describe my experiences as I complete a nine month cooking course - the City and Guilds Diploma in Food Preparation and Culinary Art. I did this after I moved out of full time employment and it was purely selfish - I love food, cooking, eating and drinking. Subsequent posts are about, food, travel and adventures.

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Thursday, 26 June 2014

Harvesting the bitter fruit - what to do with olives


Living on a vineyard the biggest and most important harvest of the year is, of course, the grapes. Once that is out of the way and we heave a massive sigh of relief (until the whole cycle starts again) and look at harvesting and curing our olives - and they must be cured. If you have ever eaten a raw olive you know they are bitterer than lover scorned. 

We have only half a dozen or so olive trees in three different varieties, however just which varieties remains a mystery as I lost the labels before recording the names.  Most years we have more fruit than we need for curing and preserving but nowhere near enough for olive oil - more on that later.  I didn't weight the yield from our few trees this year, but I suspect  seven to eight kilos would be a generous guess.   

In the past I have cured them using the water or brine method.  This is very straightforward and means soaking them in water or brine, which needs changing daily, for about 30 days to extract said bitterness.  After draining the final time, the now more tasty olives can be bottled in a 10% brine solution.  At this stage it is possible to add chillies, various spices, lemon peel or whatever else tickles your taste buds. 

This year I experiment with a couple of different methods, drying  the olives instead of soaking them.
olives colour change on ripening
I stand to be corrected on this, but my understanding is green and black olives are the same; it is all a matter of ripening. The olives shown above all came from the same tree and show how the colour develops.  I find the best stage for brining is as they change from green to the slightly purplish colour - if they get too ripe they become soft in the brining process. I don't know about you but when I bite into an olive a want a firm texture, not mush.


from the dehydrator, then coated in oil
Having said that I pick ripe but firm black olives for drying  - I put some in a food dehydrator and the others aside for salting.

I run the dehydrator for 24 hours then, having to go out of town, trust the hunter-gatherer to judge when they are ready.  "Job done" he said. I think  these are still a little bitter and need more drying, but he says he likes them - I guess he has to!



salt cured before cleaning, coating in oil and bottling









The salting method is my new favourite, not just because it takes the least effort.  It gives a great result. Completely cover the olives in sea salt (though I used ordinary table salt this year as I didn't have enough sea salt) and let the salt draw out the bitter juices. If the salt becomes too wet, replace it with fresh salt.  I leave these for about three weeks, rinse off the salt and dry the olives again before tossing them in olive oil.  They will keep in the fridge for 6 months, though I doubt they'll last that long as they are delicious.


Olive oil is a whole different kettle of fish - or olives in this case. You need tonnes to get any meaningful yield. Unlike grapes, which cropped at a very high rate this year, the olive trees around the district were variable in yield.  One of our neighbours doesn't bother harvesting her trees so we raid those and join forces with other contacts who have olives but in short supply. 

The method of choice for collecting vast quantities of olives is by a frenzied whacking of the branches with long sticks in what must look like a Fawlty Towers sketch.   It is very effective and  the fruit falls onto tarpaulins spread underneath,  then is transferred to large bins for transportation to the press. On a couple of tree-thrashing days we harvest about 800 kilos over three properties (plus a couple of meagre kilos from our "grove".  This gave us a surprisingly good yield of 15% so all in all we had over 100 litres to share out. 

The colour, taste and smell of fresh olive oil bear little resemblance to the imported oils you find in supermarkets.  
fresh home grown olive oil
If this blog were scratch'n'sniff you would be able to scrape your fingernails on the photo and inhale the heady aroma of freshly mown grass  - just what you want on your salad!

So, you see, with the right treatment even the most bitter fruit becomes palatable.