The Good Oil!

Olives, ripe for Harvest.

I love the passion that our volunteers bring within them into the garden. Last week I knew little about olives, except that they produced oil and were tasty to eat. However, driven by an enthusiastic volunteer and a local woman with a reasonable sized olive orchard, the garden is about to venture forth into pickling and, or pressing about 100kg of olives. The simplicity and earthiness of picking produce and then creating a nourishing, healthy food is so appealing. It’s like an antidote to the crazy, busy world of striving, achieving and “biggering” (a Dr Suez word from his book the Loraz).
Geoff Price, a local fella who provides cold pressed oil to the Food Coop, (located within the Okines Community Garden), told me today that crops are early this year and harvesting olives will be brought forward 1-10days, but “the presses aren’t open til start of June”.
Geoff so clearly articulated the key points about how to get a good oil. “Olives are a bit like apples, when apples are cut in half they oxidise, and go brown. Unless olives are stored in a cool, dark place; a cold room around 4 degrees; they will also oxidise”. So if you’ve picked your olives early, and the press isn’t open, then whack them in a cool room, just in a crate, no water, and they’ll be fine for a few weeks.
For oil, pick your olives when they are ripe, they are ripe when they are green, however more mature robust flavour comes into the oil when the colour changes. Geoff says “we pick ours when they are changing colour, flecks, a bit of pink coming in, by the time we have picked all our olives, the ones at the end have turned black”.
If you are not making oil, try pickling. You can’t pickle if your olives are too mushy though.
To pickle olives, place in fresh water (fully submerged) for 5 days, change water every day. The water keeps the oxygen out so the olives don’t oxidise. Then, make up a brine and leave the olives for 12 months, letting the brine penetrate through the skin so as to get rid of the bitter taste.
This is the recipe Geoff uses, but you can vary it as much as you like, but keep the acid and salt high enough to preserve them.
Use GREEN OR JUST TURNING FRUIT really ripe fruit goes soggy
Do not cut the fruit.
Wash the fresh olives in cold water and place in a bucket or other receptacle ensuring that there is enough to cover the olives. Put a plate or similar on top to submerge and keep submerged to olives.
Rinse and change the water daily for five days.
Put the olives back into the same bucket and cover with brine. I just add enough water to cover the fruit and stir in the salt with my hand until there is some undissolved salt in the bottom (if you remember your schoolboy chemistry a just saturated solution)
Add a couple of cups of white vinegar
Once again make sure the fruit is submerged put the plate or whatever back and make bloody sure they are all submerged. I lost a bucket of fruit once when the plate tipped over and let the air at them.
Leave undisturbed for nine to twelve months in a cool place.
Remove the skin that forms on the top of the water and discard
Wash the crap out of the fruit. I put it in a plastic sieve and use the hose to wash them.
It is a good idea to taste a couple to make sure they are not too bitter. You need a little residual bitterness to ensure you have the true flavour of the olive.
Rinse them over and over to remove the salt and any fermentation products that remain.
Put the olives in clean fresh water.
Sterilise your jars in the oven at about 120 degrees

Based on a total volume of six litres (the size of our boiler)
One part lemon juice
One part white vinegar (These are the two items I change a bit sometimes I think it is better with more lemon and less vinegar, but most of my eaters like it this way)
Four parts water
4 to 600 grams of salt depends on your taste.
Garlic (as much as you want)
Pepper corns – Tasmanian native pepper is good, but not too much as it gets bloody hot easily.
Put the whole lot into a boiler and boil for about five minutes or so to pasteurise it.
Allow to cool to about 50 degrees or so.
Turn the oven off but keep the jars in the oven and use as required
Put enough olives in the jars to fill to about 12mm from the top (don’t allow any to be above this level.) Pour the liquid over the fruit in the jar until they are just covered and add a skim of olive oil to ensure the air cannot get to the fruit.
Screw on the lid whilst the water is still warm as the contraction as it cools has a vacuum sealing effect.
Put away for about six weeks or so (for flavours to penetrate) in a cool place

It is a long process but worth it.

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