This morning, we opened our first jar of olives – not just any olives – homemade olives. Our very own homemade olives. And they were delicious!
It all started 5 weeks ago with a Saturday morning walk around the neighborhood. Armed with a canvas bag, my other half and I spend those walks hand-in-hand keeping our eyes peeled for fruit trees, herbs, and other little surprises we may chance upon along the way. Well, it was that specific Saturday morning that we noticed that the olive trees were bursting with succulent little olives. The first tree we came upon was more olive than leaf! Such jubilation! Until we realized that tip toes and jumping just weren’t going to cut it. We managed to snag some of the lower ones, tossing them into the canvas bag. Reluctantly, we abandoned this beauty. As a consolation, we guaranteed that the first olive tree we grow in our own yard (when that day comes…) will be from this strain.
Our walk took us past unripe citrus and papayas that were out of reach. We chanced upon more olive trees, though their fruits were pitifully small, practically shriveled, pretty much past their prime. But beggars can’t be choosers, so we tossed them, too, into the canvas bag and continued on our way.
We were making our way up the hill, just a three minute walk from home. We were content with our harvest and excited for our first attempt at canning. Halfway to the top, we directed our glance to the left and lo and behold, what do we see? Lying in a shallow alcove just off the sidewalk was none other than a huge olive branch brimming with succulent green and dark olives! We’d hit a gold mine! Without hesitation, we got to gleaning. Moments later, we see another branch, this one levitating through the gate of the adjacent house. Behind it a figure appeared. The owner. He saw us. And was delighted! Apparently, he was doing a little gardening and was pruning – if you can even call it that – his entire olive tree. The tree, he claimed, was creating too much shade and preventing other plants from growing. So he was going to leave the stump and let it start over. And the olives? Well, he said we could take the whole lot. He and his wife had done canning years ago. Too much effort, they had decided. Anyways, they preferred the taste of the store-bought stuff.
We spent the next 20 minutes stripping every branch of its fruit, as well as salvaging some of the newly fallen ones from the ground. The canvas bag was full. I mean really, really full. Not overflowing, but that’s because it’s a pretty big bag. We figured it weighed somewhere in the range of 5 kg. Let’s just say it was heavy and that I didn’t mind not bearing the burden on my back. We thanked the olive tree neighbor, told him we’d bring him some tastings if our experiment was successful, and headed home.
The process of canning, as we soon discovered, is quite involved.
In the spirit of the short attention spans, OUR process (emphasis on the OUR) was as follows:
- Pour olives into a large bowl.
- Separate green olives from dark olives.
- Olives need to be slightly open to let the bitterness dissipate. We started by knocking each olive with a rubber hammer. That was messy and inefficient, so we switched to making a slit in each with a knife. That’s clearly our recommendation.
- Let each batch soak in water for two days in a covered pot.
- Replace water and soak for two more days.
- After a total of four days, rinse.
- Time to can! Jars need to be sanitized, so do one of three things: (1) microwave with water inside on high for 2 minutes; (2) pour boiling water and shake; or (3) bake (i.e. place jar in oven. place cap on jar. DO NOT SCREW ON CAP – it will stay glued on.)
- Let jars cool.
- Start to can.
- Fill jar with olives up to an inch from the top.
- Add a few slices of lemon and a head or two of garlic.
- Cover the entire combo with water (+1 teaspoon salt for every cup).
- Add a thin layer of olive oil at the top. Nothing should be peaking through.
- Cap jar and place in dark, cool place.
- Every few days, unscrew the jar to release the gases.
- After a month, BON APPETITE!
I must admit that I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. I’ve had homemade olives in the past and I’m sorry to say that they weren’t anything to write home about. Bitter at best.
But, ours? Well, we put a lot of love into our babies, checking up on them and watching them become the succulent and robust olives that they did. We didn’t really follow the recipe to the letter. Apparently, dark olives are supposed to be canned differently. But I’m far from complaining and am anxiously awaiting our next olive canning.
Until then, well, let’s just say that we have more than enough to tide us over.
Enough olives to feed an army