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|
|from the dehydrator, then coated in oil|
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|
So, you see, with the right treatment even the most bitter fruit becomes palatable.