brine cured olives alison steeleColumn Alison Steele Columns Food & Drink 

Brine cured Olives packed in Herbs and Oil

By Alison Steele

The first time I tasted home-cured olives was with California farmer gal Towhee Nelson. She dropped by with a jar of shiny black orbs, soaking in oil and and her farm grown flavors, harvested from the hand-tilled earth of Camp Joy Gardens. Anyone who has ever attended the annual Spring Plant Sale or the infamous Wreath Sale will know the magic I speak of. Their garlic braids are lovely enough to inspire lyric in song, and her daughters’ fresh baked pies leave one daydreaming of next season’s offerings. Over the years, Towhee and I have left little gifts on each others’ porches from fresh bouquets and freshly pressed heirloom apple juice to homemade fruit chocolates and warm bakes. After all, isn’t that what good neighbors do?

She simply said, put the olive crock next to the sink and you won’t forget to change the brine, and so I did. Towhee is overflowing with farming family tips like how to make a good balanced hard cider, smooth creamy fresh chevre, or perfectly cooked chile rellenos…all from their family’s 5-acre biodynamic farm nestled right here in Boulder Creek, started by her dad, Jim, back in 1971.

In the mountain garden we grow Mission olives, and holy smokes do they love it here! Evergreen and stunning along a fenceline, the whimsical silvery trees can grow tall, making nearby houses disappear and quiet the rumble of motorcycles parading through downtown on the weekends. Our first tree was a gift, now producing enough olives for all four of us, the winter birds, and holiday fare with friends.

Mission olives ready for preserving

I eagerly planted two more Missions creating a Mediterrane-like border along the property including guavas, citrus, and pears. The fruit starts to darken in the winter, and picking one or two colanders a day makes the task seem manageable, and of course, the bigger the crock, the more olives produced for a comparable amount of work.  

There’s more than one way to cure an olive, but here’s a simple method that works every time…

Brine-cured Olives packed in Herbs & Oil  

1 colander black olives, approximately 8 cups
1 fermenting crock
Filtered water 
Sea salt

Olives fresh from the tree are unpalatable and bitter. The curing process sweet-talks the tannins out leaving them soft, edible, and irresistible.

Pick over the olives discarding any with blemishes or broken skin. Rinse the remaining olives. Mix one part good sea salt to one part warm filtered water. Stir to dissolve the salt. Add the remaining 9 parts, and pour over clean olives in the crock. Cut a small circle of wax paper to sit just on the inside of the crock ring, covering the olives completely. Submerge the olives laying the fermenting weights carefully on top of the wax paper and slowly lowering them beneath the brine as you would sauerkraut. There should be no floating olives and about an inch or two of brine above the olives, wax paper, and weights. Discard the old brine on top of weedy brick pathways and remake a fresh solution each week. Rinsing olives in cool water each time. Start tasting them after the first few brine changes so you can develop taste for the stages of tannin leaching. 

When your pallet tells you to stop changing the brine (around 6-8 weeks) give the olives a final rinse and pack in masons jars along with garden flavors. The garlic, rosemary, dried chile and citrus peel combo is exceptional, but as always, experiment with what’s in the winter garden. The dried thyme and juniper berries from the Virginia garden are new additions, preserving memories of summertime on the East Coast. No need to add salt at this point. Cover olives with good oil, screw lids on tight and store in the fridge. Serve with crusty bread, pickled quail eggs, and homemade chevre. 

A native of Virginia, Alison Steele lives with her family in Boulder Creek where she raises quail, chickens, fruit trees, vegetables, and herbs. Alison plays banjo and sings in Sugar by the Pound.

Photos by Alison Steele

Brine-cured Olives packed in Herbs & Oil  


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