Curing Green Olives
My family was Sicilian on all 4 sides (all 4 parents and grandparents). They loved large green olives cured at home. I remember them from my childhood if I can remember anything. But green olives are also shared in many other regions including Sicily’s nearest neighbors in the region, Calabria.
As the legend goes, the porcelain bathtub was scrubbed so clean you can eat from it. Then, with a hammer, grandma would smack each one on top from the stem to split in half, pits were discarded and the 2 halves were put into a ceramic pot with cold water. 2 pounds of olives would yield about a pound of olives, as pits were almost half the yield.
The fresh, raw, green olives (which we can really only get in USA from California) are now soaked in cold fresh water for 3 days, changing the water daily to remove the bitter taste. Now it gets tricky. My mother would add red vinegar, onions, maybe some salt and cure for 2 weeks. My father’s side was far more complex, salt brine, boiling, testing, tasting, oil, storage. I will post several methods here and tell you which, in the end is closest in taste to my memory. Many add herbs, but I do not remember a presence of oregano, fennel seed, salt, oil, or even oregano.
Like anything else, there are many methods, numerous recipes and even this entry is a mix of things I have tried (and even failed at) over the years. Here are a few versions:
The first thing to do is wash them then soak them in cold water in the refrigerator for a day or two so anything on its surface is washed (instead of washing them in warm water and/or bruising the olive). Simply let them soak for 2-3 days, rinsing water a few times.
Next comes the messy part. I remove them from the fridge and use a aluminum meat tenderizer made in Italy that my mother used. Its better to use a rubber mallet you change car tires with or even a small ball-peen hammer (with rounded edges). You don’t want to smash the hell out of it, you simply want to crack it to first soak them again and remove a lot of the bitterness, but also because once they are cracked, the seasonings can permiate and be absorbed into the olive.
For me, the pits only get in the way of being seasoned and cured, and its less work to remove the olives when I finally get to sit down and enjoy eating them. So, I don’t care if its a pretty presentation, I am only concerned with taste, and less work of picking out the pits when I sit down to eat. But, as always, be sure to bite gently, there can be small shards of pits which can damage the teeth, so bite gently as with any food other than potato chips or french fries). If you cut them first with a small knife, there is better chance they will split in half and more whole, but I don’t have patience this time around and smaller pieces is fine. I then return them to the bowl of fresh, clean water (bottled spring water only for all my cooking), and let them sit there in the fridge for another 2-3 days, changing the water twice every 24 hours.
Again, I am not interested in pretty, I want the taste the same way my grandparents made them, and authentic ethnic traditional foods are not always pretty.
Next get your Ball or Mason jars and be sure to keep them in boiling water for 10 minutes (without the lids). You should be able to pick up a dozen of them for around $12. These are the fancier “quilted crystal” type, but I prefer them tapered because they make it easier to thaw things like sauces if you decide to freeze anything, plus it makes for a nicer presentation if you are giving something to a friend as a gift. This step of boiling/sterilizing is very important, especially when you are preserving or curing something, you definitely do not want to be growing bacteria in the lid when you are jarring and storing foods.
After a week or more, you have to decide which road to take, and there are many:
VERSION #1: DePasquale Style; Wash the olives, smash them with a mallet or hammer, drop into water for 3 days, rinsing daily, then drop into a jar with fresh cut onions and red wine vinegar.
VERSION #2: Cristaldi Style; Wash the olives, smash them from the top/stem with a mallet or hammer, remove pits, drop into water for 3 days, rinsing daily, then put in salted boiling water, turn off heat, allow to rest, covered for 24 hours. Drain olives, add red wine vinegar, salt, pepper & oregano into a bowl. Spoon from that bowl into a jar using a slotted spoon, some vinegar is ok. Once in the jar, fill with olive oil to cover all the olives, store in refrigerator.
VERSION #3: Xtaldi Style (Mine); Wash the olives, smash them from the top/stem with a mallet or hammer, remove pits, soak in water for 3 days, rinsing daily. Version 1) Red wine vinegar, onions; Version 2) Half Red Wine Vinegar, Half Water, Onions; Version 3) Half water, half red wine vinegar, no onions; Version 4) Water only, 1/4 Sicilian Sea Salt.
VERSION #4: Procopio Style (Calabrese); This is for a 16lb box, you will obviously need a very large bowl or small tub. 16lbs without pits will be approximately 8lbs (I am only guessing). Wash the olives, smash them from the top/stem with a mallet or hammer, remove pits, soak in water for 3 days in a brine of 1 box of Morton’s salt (not if this is the natural sea salt they used or with iodine, which is 10 times more salty). After 3 days, remove, rinse, and “the trick” as Lisa Procopio said several times is to be sure they are absolutely dry, no water, put them in a towel and gently squeeze to be sure all the water is out of them. Then start bottling or jarring them, covering in olive oil and adding herbs of your choice. She uses garlic, oregano and the fennel, not the actual fennel seeds you would find in sausages, but before they even become seeds, I am trying to find a photo of this nearly microscopic herb from the plant that grows in their yard. 3 Variations: 1) Garlic, Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Dried Oregano; 2) Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Oregano; 3) Extra Virgin Olive Oil only.
VERSION #5: Wills Style (My brother’s); Slice once with knife, water cure for 1 month, changing water daily, brine with salt, white wine vinegar, garlic, peppercorns, bay leaf.
Version#6 Variation: Smashed, pits in, 15 day water cure, changing water daily, 1/8 cup kosher salt; 1/8 cup water; 3/4 cups cold water.
Special #7: Sliced, pits in, water cured for 30 days, water changed daily… fresh lemons sliced into 1/8ths with rinds…
More details to follow as we continue to experiment!