Olive picking and processing

Permaculure Principle 8: Integrate rather than segregate

Picking olives can be a great way to hang out with friends, lend a helping hand and get a harvest to last you till next season.

Our preserved green olives, in a red and white wine vinegar brine solution.
While we wait for our olive tree to grow, we have been invited to harvest olives from friends trees. We were invited up to Wuk Wuk, a property in Tallarook, with another family to pick green eating olives and have a BBQ. After an hour or so picking and a great night out we ended up with about 10kg of green olives to preserve.

I've tried a couple of techniques in the past, but wasn't super impressed by the result - although they were pleasant enough to eat. One of the main issues I had was with the amount of salt used. I wanted to try a technique that allowed me to reuse the water that is used for rinsing the olives.

Caro and Mark, who came with us on the Wuk Wuk trip have been preserving olives for many years and experimented with different techniques. They have adapted the kalamata method of preserving olives which they now use for both black and green olives. I've included this method at the end of this post. I'll run through the processs...

With a relatively large quantity like this (10kg) Caro recommended that I use a brewing barrel with a tap at the base to soak and rinse the olives. I wasn't keen on this, as I thought that it might tarnish the flavour of my next brews. I had a 20lt plastic olive oil drum that I'd kept, a purchase from Murrnong a couple of years ago, and was trying to find a use for - perfect! I was thinking about cutting the top off, but decided to try using it without modifying it first. Filling the small opening by hand was a bit messy so I made up a scoop using a plastic bottle which was better.
I washed the olives first, but did not slice them - which would help to speed up the process somewhat. A bit of a gamble, but I wanted to see how they would turn out with minimal intervention.

I filled an old 20lt olive oil drum with green olives through the existing opening using an improvised scoop. Tap fitted at bottom to drain water each 24 hours.

Water from soaked olives drained onto nearby trees / vines each day - for 40 days.
As a reminder I set an alarm on my phone and computer every morning, and didn't miss a day. After about 40 days, the upper end of what what recommended, I decided it was time for bottling. The water and fruit tasted bitter, but nowhere near as much as it did.

I cleaned a heap of jars that we'd collected, then sterilised them with the lids using a powdered sterilising compound with the frinedly name 'Stericlean' that contains trisodium phoshate and sodium dichloro isocyanurate - rinsed with boiled rainwater after. Then Kai and I packed the olives into the jars. We got about 36 jars in all - that should keep us going for a while.

Not knowing how much preserving liquid we needed I made up a small batch first. To one litre of rainwater I added about 170 grams of rock salt - enough to get a fresh egg to float. I then added 500ml of red wine vinegar and brought the solution to the boil. I then filled the jars to about 10mm from the top with the hot solution and put the lid on. Most of the jars formed a vacuum seal, but it's not vital.

With 10kg of olives I used about 2.5lt of vinegar (1.5lt of red wine vinegar and 1lt of white wine vinegar - run out of red), 5lt of rainwater and 850g of salt. I was probably a bit generous with the salt, but I'd rather be safe than sorry at this stage, and the olives can be soaked in water to remove some of the salt before marinating / eating later if necessary. Now we have to wait for two months before our first taste, probably longer would be better as I didn't slit them.

Kai begins packing the sterilised jars with olives

Jars packed and ready for the brine / vinegar solution.
Two thirds brine solution made with enough salt in rainwater to float an egg. Then red wine vinegar added and boiled before filling jars.

A trip to Murrnong in Violet Town

A month after our Wuk Wuk trip we were invited once again to Murrnong to help out with the olive harvest. 2012 was a poor season, but this year was a good crop. David Arnold has an orchard that he harvest primarily for oil and gets help from friends, family and WWOOFers as the need arises. We helped out in 2011, and bought a 20lt barrel of oil that lasted us a bit over a year, giving some away to friends and family. My Dad said that it was the best oil he ever tasted - we really like it to, but things always taste better when you help make them don't they?

Getting involved in the whole process gives a much better understanding of the whole process and a greater appreciation for the final product. Picking with the kids around is an education for them and a bit fun in a different environment. We've ordered another 20lt this year.

David let us pick some black olives, which are more ripe, to take home with us. I've slit these this time and they are in the barrel getting rinsed every day. I'll give them the same treatment in the processing and see how they compare with the green olives. Stay tuned for the verdict.

The kids in the olive bins at 'Murrnong'. Olives harvested for oil by hand using plastic rakes and a mobile system to collect falling olives.

Mark and Caro's method... 

Olives should be soaked in plain water, changed daily or at least every 2 days, for at least 21 days- up to 40. You're basically trying to leach out as much of the bitter juices as possible- the water should start to get clearer and not so pungent. For large quantities we use the large homebrewing containers as you can use the tap to easily drain the water out, then refill from the top.

Once they've soaked adequately, they can be bottled. We use large jars, including glass instant coffee jars with the push in lids which are easy to pick up from op shops. Because of the level of salt and vinegar in the mix a tight seal isn't as necessary as with other things, but we find these seal well if you use a hot mix anyway.

Sterilise your jars and heat up a mix of 1/3 red wine vinegar and 2/3 brine. I THINK last time we used a 10% brine as we found it too salty in previous years. You can check out brine mixes on the internet. Bring to the boil, then fill sterilised jars with olives and pour over the hot mixture. Seal immediately and allow to cool. Leave for at least 2 months for the bitterness to subside and the flavours to develop. They should keep indefinitely in the pantry/cellar. If you want to marinate them- eg garlic, herbs, oil etc- you can do this 24hrs or longer before you want to eat them. But they must be refrigerated once you do this- garlic in particular will spoil the preserving mix.


Anonymous said…
What an excellent and informative post this is...there is a winery with olive trees that are covered in ripe olives that the owner allows to drop onto the ground as I think they are just there for the "look". I wonder if he would allow me to take some of them and preserve them like this? Might have to ask him I HATE waste :) Cheers for a great post :)
Caro said…
Great post Richard- great to share the knowledge around.
Re. the green olives we picked with you, we pitted all of them this year at Peter's suggestion. After 21 days of soaking there was no hint of bitterness so I think this is the way to go. Because of this we've been able to eat them straight away, although the flavour isn't as strong. We also used more vinegar this time (I got mixed up and accidentally used 2/3 vinegar, 1/3 brine!) and the kids love them. Very happy with this year's results.

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