Courtesy Jordan Champagne, Happy Girl Kitchen, Pacific Grove
Olives are edible straight from the tree, but they are intensely bitter that way. Olives contain oleuropein and phenolic compounds, which need to be removed or at least reduced to make them palatable. There are many different techniques for doing this, and the simplest one for black olives is salt curing them.
Mission olives have a very low flesh-to-pit ratio and so are ideal for dry curing in salt. If you try to dry cure olives that have more flesh on them, they can be too juicy, and it will not work. Lucky for us, Mission olives are all over the Central Coast. They are usually ready for harvesting around early October.
Coarse sea salt (or any non-iodized salt)
In a glass jar, simply layer the olives with the coarse sea salt in about equal parts. If you have three pounds of olives, then you should use three pounds of salt. During this time, the salt will be pulling the bitter juices from the olives. Shake the jar once a week for a month, straining off the juice after shaking. The salt may become slush like from all of the juice. Some people recommend adding more salt halfway through the process to compensate for the juices, but I have found this unnecessary.
We usually cure about 30 pounds of olives a year—enough that we prefer to do our curing in bulk, in a burlap sack. We get an old coffee sack from a roaster. You can also use a pillowcase. Follow the same technique of layering olives and salt as mentioned in the glass jar method, but rather than shaking the contents, stir them with a spoon every week. The juices will be released from the burlap sack, so you’ll need to place the sack over a drain or container to catch them.
Test your olives after one month by rinsing and tasting. The bitterness should be removed, and the olives should be delicious! Watch for the olives to stop releasing their juices as a sign that they are ready. How long this takes depends on their size. When the olives are finished curing, rinse off the remaining salt by resting the olives in a strainer with large holes. Next, completely dry off all the rinse water either with a dishtowel or in a low-heat oven. Lastly, toss the olives with a little olive oil as this seals them to prevent mold. At this time, you can season with herbs if you like. The olives, in a covered container, will last up to a year in the refrigerator or a few months in a cupboard.