Many people are baffled as to how to pickle their own olives. Here is a simple, traditional method of pickling olives the Mediterranean way for great tasting olives that you can serve up as a tasty Spanish or Greek style snack. The method involves selecting the olives, washing them then leaving them to ferment. As well as showing you how to do it, we also cover why these steps are necessary.
Pickling Olives – Getting Started
First of all you need to start with olives that are freshly picked and in good condition. There are three stages in ripeness that you can use for pickling. They are green, ripe green which is a slightly more yellow colour and black which is fully ripe. Black olives are usually not fermented, which is why they have a milder taste than the green ones. Green and ripe green olives produce stronger flavours. For this method, we will use about twenty five pounds (10 kg) of green olives.
A food grade container of around five gallons (20 litres) is used for the pickling process. The olives are traditionally soaked in spring water for several hours to wash them. They are then drained. To prepare the pickling solution you will need about one and a half gallons (7 litres) of spring water at room temperature. Add one and a half pounds (800 grams) of sea salt and about half a pint (300 grams) of vinegar. White wine or cider vinegar is best.
Pickling Olives – Cutting the Olives
With a sharp knife, make a single deep cut lengthways in each olive to assist the fermentation process then put them in the container with the liquid. Weigh the olives down with a large diameter plate so they are all covered by the liquid. The plate should not fit too tightly in the container so the gasses can escape. It is not critical to exclude oxygen as in the winemaking process, so with this method there is no need to seal the container.
Pickling Olives – Fermenting
The olives should be fermented at room temperature for up to a month before they can be eaten, but will become more flavoursome and fully mature after three months. They can be tasted any time during fermentation as a way of checking their flavour. The bitter compounds are safe to eat.
The reason for fermenting the olives in this traditional way is to break down the phenolic compounds and the glycoside, oleuropein which are contained in the raw fruit that give them their harsh bitter taste. When these compounds are broken down, lactic acid is produced. This is an excellent natural preservative which will enable the olives to be stored without refrigeration for several months.
Aside from the fiddly, time consuming process of cutting each individual olive, this traditional method of pickling olives is quite straightforward and produces excellent results. The final product can be served with many different herbs and spices, steeped in olive oil or vinegar flavoured with chilli, garlic or lemon juice or stuffed with peppers, cheese or anchovies. By using this traditional and relatively simple method you never need to feel put off pickling your own olives again.