|Olives the easy way|
I love all types of olives. In college I used to keep jars of them in my mini refrigerator for midnight snacks. They only kind I have ever tried and not liked are the nasty black ones whose slices grace pizzas in the United States. No matter how much I try I can’t get the metallic taste that accompanies them out of my mind. One of the things that excited me most about moving to a Mediterranean country was the potential for a great variety of olives. And I certainly haven’t been disappointed. The largest outdoor market in Tirana sells barrels and barrels of this tiny fruit; tastes vary depending upon the region in which they were grown and eager vendors are always quick to offer samples so you can take home exactly what you are looking for. Visiting the olive vendors is my favorite part of the market experience and I never leave empty handed. I am the only olive eater in the Brown household but that doesn’t stop me from from toting home bags of them.
|Green olives ready for curing|
With fall upon us and olives at their prime, I decided to try to cure my own olives this year. Yes, I could just buy my olives from the central fruit market, or from just about any of the tiny neighborhood markets in Tirana, but where is the fun in that? Besides, I was assured that the process wasn’t hard- just tedious and time consuming- but my efforts would be well worth it. So on my last market trip I came home with a large bag of the little green beauties.
All of the various online recipes and Albanians I consulted agreed that the first step to curing olives is soaking them. Fresh olives are indelibly bitter but this bitterness can be removed through a series of water baths. In order for this soak be be effective, the flesh of each olive needs to be split. I tried smashing the olives with a rolling pin but this technique resulted in crushing the fruit. A hammer didn’t garner much better results (although I did hit my fingers a time or two). I finally decided to slice a small “x” on each fruit with a paring knife. The technique is similar to what I do when roasting chestnuts. While not difficult, it was time consuming especially since it is important not to pierce the pit.
The next step was to soak the fruit in water in a dark room. Over the course of two weeks, I changed my soaking water daily until all of the bitterness was removed from the olives. Unfortunately, I tasted my share of bitter olives during the last few days of the soaking process.
After soaking for two weeks, it was time to season and further cure the olives. I made a brine of three cups water and two tablespoons of salt. After bringing this mixture to a boil I set it aside to cool to room temperature. Next, in a small bowl I mixed together two fresh lemons, cubes with their rinds still intact, a healthy two tablespoons of dried sage, sea salt, six cloves of fresh garlic that had been sliced in half, and a few red pepper flakes.
|The final cure|
Finally I gave the olives a final rinse under cold water then placed them in a large jar (I was so excited when I found these jars in the local store. At the time I had no idea what I was going to use them for but they were just too cool to pass up). I sprinkled my seasonings over the top of the olives, poured in my brine then drizzled some olive oil over the top of it all. The jar was then sealed up and placed back onto the shelf to cure for an additional two weeks.
The verdict? Surprisingly good. I have to admit, I was a bit nervous about how they would turn out. I served them as part of my pre-Thanksgiving dinner appetizers. Several of our guests cure their own olives so that added to my anxiety but my worry was apparently for nothing. We ate a couple of bowlfuls and I still have plenty to share (or not) at future events. Maybe next time I bring them out I’ll even be able to get Glenn to try one.
|Dig in (even my olive bowl is hand made in Albania)|
This past weekend I was lucky enough to be able to further fulfill my love of all things olive by participating in an olive oil pressing. You are read about it here.