There’s nothing like the sensation of running your fingers through a heap of smooth, heavy, fresh olives. And now is the season. Open markets of the Middle East display stands heaped with the green and purple fruit, perfect for taking home to pickle in your own kitchen (as Green Prophet shows you how to pickle olives in this post). It sounds intimidating, but the process really doesn’t take much work, just a fair amount of time waiting for things to happen by themselves. If you live in Israel, you may find good raw olives in one of these open-air markets.
So how to pick the best olives? To start with, choose olives that look and feel smooth and heavy. Olives are susceptible to a fungus that’s first visible at the stem end, so check a handful or two before committing yourself to buying. Stir the heap with a finger and notice if there are many rotten or severely bruised olives. If so, move on to the next vendor.
If you’re lucky enough to live where wild olive trees flourish – usually on abandoned land that was farmed long ago – you’ll be able to harvest organic fruit. Otherwise you must ask the vendor if they are sprayed. If you have no choice but to buy non-organic, console yourself with the fact that the olives will soak in fresh water changed daily for at least a week, if not two, so that much of the pesticide will have been washed out. Brining further penetrates their flesh and hopefully leaches out even more undesirables.
There are hundreds of varieties, but most markets offer only two or three, at different stages of maturity. Green olives are immature. It may take as long as two weeks for them to yield their bitterness, and a month (or more) until the brine has fermented them into tastiness. As immature olives ripen, their skin turns reddish-purple. These demand less soaking and brining time. Black olives are mature and ready to eat soonest. A batch is ready to eat when its taste suits you – it’s as simple as that.
Experiment with a kilo of olives in each stage of maturity, or with two different types. Make a note of which you liked best for next year. If you and your family love olives, I can guarantee that no matter how many kilos you pickle, they’ll be gone fast, and you’ll wish you had made more.
More about the noble olive here on Green Prophet:
- A 2000-year-old olive tree in Israel
- Power your wood stove with olive waste
- Olive oil pioneer fixes his heart with olive oil
Photo of raw green olives at shuk Ramleh, Israel, by Miriam Kresh.