In Tucson, there are many opportunities to harvest olives in parks and neighborhoods - they are usually ripe in November - December. You want to harvest them from the tree (not the ground!) before the first freeze. Well-watered trees that have not been treated with pesticides are best! Be gentle with the olives, and reject fruits that are soft or bruised. Plan to brine the olives within a couple of days of harvest - brining with salt leaches out the bitterness (you can't eat ripe olives off the tree). Buy your salt in bulk at the natural food store. I use 1-gallon pickle jars for the brining process and pint Ball caning jars for the finished marinated olives. This set of instructions is modified from many sources. Once you brine your own, you will be spoiled and never want to suffer store-bought olives again! Olives prepared as described will remain self-stable for at least a year. This is totally worth the hassle and wait!
- Sort olives by color/ripeness into different bowls. Green, mostly green, half green/purple, mostly purple, purple.
- Clean olives thoroughly by rinsing under water (work in batches).
- Use a paring knife to score/cut an "X" in each olive. This allows the brine to more easily leach the bitterness out of the olive.
- Once a whole color-batch is scored, place in a one-gallon pickle jar with a brine of 8oz sea salt to water. Swish the brine throughly so that all the salt gets dissolved instead of settling to the bottom. Fill with water to almost the top. Use a ziploc baggie with some water in it to weight the olives. It is very important to keep all olives submerged to avoid mold problems. Leave the lid loose and put in a cool, dark place.
- After one week, switch to a stronger brine of 1lb salt/gallon. I like to rinse the olives and sterilize the jars at this point. The smell and sensation of the clean, rinsed olives may blow your mind. I also use a new batch of clean ziplocs at this point to weight the olives. Keep those babies submerged!
- After 2 weeks, replace brine again as above. Close lids firmly.
- Replace brine as many times as necessary to achieve a taste you like (realizing they will be REALLY salty just out of the brine, even rinsed). I usually switch the brine 3 -4 times, 1 -2 weeks apart. Greener olives will take longer than purple olives.
- When they've been brined to your satisfaction, the fun begins! Rinse throughly. Pack in sterilized jars to 2/3 full.
- Add organic lemon slices (3-4 per jar), a whole or minced clove of garlic, and a teaspoon or so or dried oregano. Fill with vinegar (I like white vinegar for green olives and red wine for purples) and one teaspoon of salt to one inch below top of jar.
- Add 1/2 inch of olive oil.
- Seal firmly and agitate the mixture, then store in a cool, dark, place.
- Once opened, these must be refrigerated. Bring them back to room temperature before serving to avoid a weird lumpy oil crud covering your beloved olives. Refrigerate any leftovers.
- Play with the marinades - I like to do the green ones with hot peppers and carrots. Try different vinegars and herbs. A couple of years ago, I did a Thai theme, with ginger, lemon grass, hot peppers, and white vinegar. Delish!
- I have found when I give these as gifts, people do not always use them, and that is a big bummer considering all the work that goes into them and how incredibly delicious they are. Better to bring them to a party to show them off, then tell people about the process. (Plus, you get to enjoy them, too).