I've got an olive tree that produced about a quarter of a kilo of olives, that's half a pound thereabouts. Its variety is Arbequina. This is a dark brown, not quite black, olive variety primarily used to produce olive oil, because of its high oil concentration (20-22%).
However, these olives can also be prepared to eat as the most typical Spanish snack.
Olives Are Really Bitter in Their Natural State
Wouldn't you know that olives are not really apt for consumption when picked from the tree? All varieties of olives are really bitter just off the tree. And I mean really bitter.
The bitter taste of olives is due to Oleuropein, a chemical compound which is also what gives olive oil its pungent taste.
For this reason, before seasoning the olives, they need to be "cleaned up".
How to Prepare the Olives for Consumption
There are two phases to make the olives tasty enough for consumption:
Phase 1: Sweetening the olives or, rather, removing their strong bitter taste
Phase 2: Seasoning the olives
There are three different ways to prepare olives for seasoning: Whole, cut, and crushed.
The main difference is that whole olives last longer but have less taste from the seasoning. Cut olives last a bit less but take on a lot more flavor. Finally, crushed olives have the shortest shelf life but the most flavor from the seasoning.
Generally, the choice to prepare whole, cut or crushed olives depends on their variety. The sweeter the olive is by nature, the less need to cut it or crush it.
I opted for cut olives.
Phase 1: Eliminating the Strong Bitter Taste From the Olives
- Clean the olives and slash them with one or two longitudinal cuts.
TIP: I recommend using gloves for the cutting, as the juice from the olives is really messy, and difficult to clean afterwards.
- Once all olives have a nice little cut, place them in a glass or crockery dish, and cover them with water. Any water will do, even though it's recommendable the chlorine level be low.
I simply used tap water. I read that warm water may accelerate the process, but I just let nature take its course with cold water.
TIP: Avoid metal dishes if you can, to prevent any metallic flavor to mix with the olives.
- Change the water every 24 hours, for a period of 10 days. I tasted my olives on day 8 just to see where the process was, and decided to follow the guidelines to 10 days indeed.
On the tenth day, olives should be rid of the bitterness completely. However, you won't find its taste really exciting yet.
There is a much faster way to sweeten the olives, via caustic soda, which will only need about 10 hours. However the simple process I describe is the traditional method which has been used generation after generation.
Phase 2: Seasoning the Olives
There are plenty of suggestions for seasoning, some require previously cooking the ingredients, others just a simple mix… One could say olives can be seasoned as the cook decides and likes.
At any rate, this is the most important phase, because the final taste of the olives will depend on your seasoning skills!
Personally, I opted for a very simple mix which is also tasty and rather popular with dark olives.
Cook Time for the Seasoning
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Nice & tasty snack for 2 people
Ingredients for Onion & Paprika Seasoning for Half Pound of Olives
- Salt, Just a drop
- Half teaspoon Sweet Paprika
- Half teaspoon Hot Paprika
- 1 Tablespoon Vinegar
- Half Onion
- Olive Oil, Enough to cover the mix
How to Prepare the Seasoning Mix
- Mince the onion into small pieces and add them to a bowl.
- Add the half teaspoons of hot and sweet paprika, and a drop of salt.
- Pour the tablespoon of vinegar on top and mix these ingredients.
- Finally, add enough olive oil to cover the seasoning, and mix to obtain a sort of paste. For half a pound of olives, 5 or 6 tablespoons of olive oil will do.
- In either a crockery dish or a glass container, add some of the olives and pour some of seasoning, repeat until you're done with the olives and the mix. The goal is to evenly distribute the seasoning so that all olives get a more or less equal opportunity to acquire the taste.
- Let the seasoning work its magic for about a week, and the olives will be ready for consumption.
Crockery is most recommended to hold the seasoned olives, but also a glass container with a lid that closes hermetically will do.
From the Tree to the Table!
How to prepare & season home grown olives
Other Seasoning Ideas
Herb Seasoning for Whole or Cut Olives
- A little branch of thyme
- 2 tablespoons of oregano
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 fennel branch
- 1 lemon
- 1 teaspoon of salt
- 1 head of garlic
- On two cups of water, bring the thyme, fennel, bay leave, oregano and salt to a boiling point and then let it cool.
- Slice the lemon in quarters and add it to the boiled herbs.
- Separate the garlic cloves and crush them without peeling them (you can easily do this with your hand). Once they are crushed, add them to the herb mix as well.
- When the seasoning is cold, mix the whole olives, and top your dish with cold water. Let it rest for a about a week.
Castillian Recipe for Cut Olives
Preparation: Mix the rosemary and paprika and cover the cut olives with the seasoning. Let it rest for about a week
Garlic Seasoning for Whole Olives
- 3 or 4 cloves of garlic
- 2/3 Bay leafs.
- Teaspoon of oregano
- Juice from half a lemon
- Drop of salt.
Preparation: Mix all ingredients and cover the whole olives with the seasoning. Let it rest for about a week
Rosemary & Mint Seasoning for Whole or Cut Olives
- 1 teaspoon of thyme
- Some cumin, rosemary, and mint minced and mixed
- 2 peeled garlic cloves
- 4 tablespoons of olive oil
- 1 teaspoon of paprika
- 3 tablespoons of White wine vinegar
- Salt and black pepper in grain
- Use a frying pan to brown the garlic cloves in olive oil. Once the garlic is brown, add the paprika and fry lightly.
- Before the paprika tans, add the vinegar and mix heartily.
- Add the mix of cumin, rosemary and mint, together with the salt and pepper grains.
- Add this mix to the dish with the olives, and let it rest for about a week. Ideally you use a dish with a lid, this seasoning will work better if it doesn't breathe.
- Serve the olives with a bit of the seasoning.
© 2012 Elena.