So Colin and I bought a house last spring, and it happens to have a quite large olive tree in the back yard. It’s a beautiful tree, and one of the things we have been trying hard to keep alive despite a) the epic drought and b) our innate lack of gardening knowledge/ambition. Luckily, olives are accustomed to living in hot, dusty mediterranean places, so they are one of the things that can survive a central valley summer.
Last spring, the tree developed tiny green olives. By September, they were kind of purplish. By October, they were still tiny, but now a dark purple-black, which, we realized, means you need to harvest them now before they shrivel up and drop off the tree.
So, between a cursory google search of “how to harvest olives” and some advice from my Greek dad, we decided we were going to go for it. Despite being olive amateurs, we knew enough to be interested in avoiding botulism, so we looked at the University of California guide to safely pickling your own olives. We chose the “Greek Style Black Olives in Brine” because our olives are black, I am Greek, and really it was one of the simplest sounding options.
We spent a hardworking but pretty fun Saturday afternoon harvesting 3 gallons of olives and putting them in jars of brine to cure. Here’s how it went:
We used olive harvesting rakes, which are these odd little plastic things with which you comb the branches to pull the olives off without damaging the leaves. They are available on amazon of course, because what isn’t, and they actually work pretty well. We put a tarp under the tree to catch the olives as they fell, which kind of worked but a lot of them just bounced off.
This is what three gallons of teeny tiny olives look like.
Once we had picked our big bucketful, we dumped them into the sink to wash, then scooped them out with a slotted spoon and put them into quart-sized canning jars.
Then, we mixed up about two gallons of “medium brine,” which means 1 1/2 cups of pickling salt (also available on amazon) dissolved in 2 gallons of water. We ladled it into the jars until they were almost full.
Then, we put the lids on the jars loosely, and put them aside for a week until we change out the medium brine for “strong brine,” which just means a higher salt concentration. After that, we will close the jars tightly and wait 2-3 months, after which point they should be ready to eat.
They may or may not be very delicious, but we at least we will have made an attempt. So around Christmastime, hit me up if you’d like a big jar of tiny, maybe tasty maybe awful brine-cured black olives from my own backyard which will probably not give you botulism.
Or, if you’re interested in fresh ripe olives from my tree, we only picked 25% (at most) of what was actually on there. We could have done more, but we decided that if this whole enterprise is an epic failure, we’d rather have 13 quarts of inedible olives than 50 quarts. If it goes well, we may do more next year.