Near the murmuring
In the grain fields, of the waves
Of wind in the oat-stalks
The olive tree
With its silver-covered mass
Severe in its lines
In its twisted
Heart in the earth:
By the hands
And the oceanic
Ode to Olive Oil / Oda al aceite
- Pablo Neruda 1904-1973
Come stroll with me in the olive grove of my dreams, on a hillside covered with twisted olive trees, their silver branches laden with fruit ready to be harvested. Oh yes, it's good to have a dream. And there's something rather alluring about olives and olive trees, don't you agree?
As Anne Dolamore reminds us in The Essential Olive Oil Companion, 'The history of the olive weaves its way through myths and legends, wars and treaties, commerce and culture, theology, medicine and gastronomy. Its precise origins are lost back in the mists of time. However, the olive could be viewed as a bench mark of civilisation itself. [And] who first discovered the uses of the olive and how to extract the unctuous oil no one really knows'.
Let's dip into a little of the history of olives in Australia. Although Captain John Macarthur has been credited for the fact, the first olive tree was brought to Australia in 1800 by market gardener, George Suttor. Olives were planted across the country throughout the 1800s, until an olive oil slump in 1897 saw cases of South Australian olive oil shipped to Britain to be given away to charity. In the 1940s, migrants from the Mediterranean region arrived in the Adelaide region to find neglected olive groves. Australians found a new passion for olive oil in the 1980s and 90s, thanks to the migrant Greeks and Italians. The love affair continues.
When Peter and I bought our blue house together, one of the first items we purchased was an olive tree. Olive trees are recognised as a symbol of peace and happiness and, although we quibbled about whether we should buy a standard olive tree or an espaliered specimen (he wanted the standard, I the espaliered... he now wishes we chose the espaliered!), our olive tree has been a constant source of genuine delight and interest for both of us. Three years on, we have two olive trees in pots in our courtyard and, to our great joy, the larger of the two produced 12 olives this season!
I sought guidance from Twitter on how best to preserve our 'bountiful harvest'. My twitter friend, fellow cook Louis D'Cruz quickly responded, advising that he had experimented with seven different methods of curing olives and the recipe he would share with me was his favourite. I knew I was in good hands, for Louis had months earlier tweeted to me that his olives had won a Royal Agricultural Society award in 2011. Louis advises that with this method of preservation, the olives should be still crunchy, lightly salted and with a light lemon flavour.
Here is my adaptation of the recipe, courtesy of Louis. Bear in mind that I had a dozen olives, not a kilo, so when I amended the quantities when I was working with my 'load'. I have yet to taste the final product, but must say that they made my mouth water every morning as I changed the water and added fresh lemon juice!
1 kilo large olives
light brine solution: 100g salt per 1 litre of water
Lightly smash or crack the olives in a mortar and pestle (take care not to squash them, you only want to split the skin and keep the stone intact). Place the olives in a non-reactive bowl (such as pyrex). Cover with water and the juice of two lemons. The next day, tip out the water, rinse the olives, refresh with more water and the juice of two more lemons. Do this every day for six more days.
Taste the olives. If they still taste bitter, continue the process for another two or three days. When you are ready to bottle the olives, sterilise a jar. Rinse the olives and place them into the jar. Fill the jar with the light brine solution. Seal. Note: I added a strip of two of lemon zest to the jar. This is an experiment and I will provide an update on the flavour in due course.
Thank you Louis for your generosity and love of cooking! I look forward to your guest post when you are ready!
The process in pictures... pick, crack, soak, rinse, brine, bottle...
Tell me, do you like olives? Do you grow them? Have you tried preserving olives?
Hello. I'm Liz, a writer, cook and traveller based in Canberra, Australia.
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NB: I use Australian standard measuring cups and spoons in my recipes.