Saturday, September 10, 2011

Olives, ole!

When we should have had our first olive harvest last year, a late season tropical storm blew through and destroyed our crop. This year, our region is suffering its most serious drought in history along with record high temperatures. But, despite the weather, our Arbequina olive trees are bearing a significant amount of fruit, and the grove is within a week of harvest. The fruit is a bit smaller because of no rain and the intense summer heat, but they have survived!

Photo of Arbequina olives via University of California, Davis.

Hubby has been conducting research to ascertain harvest recommendations from professional growers in our area. The concensus seems to be when the majority of olives have a 'plum blush' they are ready for picking. Some olives will be darker, others still green, but the time is right when most are showing fall color. For our region, that time is mid-late September.

Image via Cook Around.
Instead of pressing our first crop to make olive oil, we wanted to cure these olives in a brine so we could savor and share our fruit with others.

The owner of Sandy Oaks Olive Orchard, Sandy Winokur, happily offered her simple brining process below:

Select only olives free of flaws.

Make a solution of one gallon of water to 1-1/2 cups of Kosher or sea salt (without iodine). The old fashioned method is to put a raw egg in the shell in the bottom of a container of water. Pour in salt until the egg floats to the top.

Place the olives in a glass or ceramic container. Cover the olives with the above mixture.

Weight the olives down with a one-gallon Ziploc bag filled with water to keep them submerged in the brine solution.

Store the olives in a cool place, about 67-72 degrees F.

In approximately 6 weeks, test the olives by tasting one. The olives should no longer taste bitter. If they do, keep them in the brine a few weeks longer. For the more technically inclined, when the PH meter reads 4.6, the olives are ready.

If you think the olives are too salty, pour off the brine, then cover them with cool water and soak for several hours. Drain, cover them with fresh water. Store in the refrigerator. Your olives are now ready to eat!

Image via Health News.

Serving suggestions: Place the cured olives in a bowl of olive oil (Sandy Oaks Extra Virgin Olive Oil is a good choice). Add peppercorns, garlic cloves, fresh herbs or any citrus peel. Let olives marinate for a few hours to infuse them with these flavors.

This is year four since we planted our grove, and hubby and I have been looking forward to our first harvest since the first day we bought these trees from the growers at Sandy Oaks Orchard! The trees were about 2' tall then. With hubby's constant care, they are well over 12' tall now and evidently happy planted in our limestone embankment along a dry creek bed.

I'll let you know how our olives taste after the curing process is complete. After all, I'm looking for a way to satisfy my constant desire for Olive Tapenade ... it's heavenly spread over French bread and topped with sliced tomato and buffalo mozzarella, then lightly toasted under a broiler. Yum, yum!

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