If you have an olive tree, one approach to preserving your harvest is to cure the olives in lye. It's not difficult, just time-consuming, but the delicious results are more than worth the effort.
There is no cooking required, just patience as the lye solution and brine do their magic. You can expect to wait about six days before you taste the fruits of your labor.
If you don't have an olive tree, no worries, you can purchase the olives at specialty stores year-round.
Why cure olives at all? It's to remove the bitterness that they have when they're first picked from the tree. This can be accomplished by soaking them many times in freshwater or by using a lye solution as is done here. The lye solution will have to be repeated three times, so plan on up to a total of 15 tablespoons of lye and 15 quarts of cold water.
Expect a little shrinkage, so if you start with 5 1/2 pounds of olives, your yield will probably be 5 pounds, which will fit into five pint-sized jars.
Gather the ingredients.
Rinse the olives with water and place them in a 2-gallon glass, stoneware, or food-grade plastic container with a lid.
Make the lye solution in a separate glass, stoneware, or food-grade plastic container. Wear rubber gloves and use a nonaluminum tablespoon to measure the lye into the 5 quarts cold water. Mix with a long-handled wooden spoon or stick.
Transfer the lye solution to the olive container, making sure the olives are completely covered (weight them down if necessary). Put on the lid and leave at room temperature for 24 hours.
Drain the olives and then soak for 12 more hours in a fresh lye solution of 5 quarts cold water mixed with 5 tablespoons lye.
Drain and rinse. Cut into the largest olive; if the lye has reached the pit, the lye cure is complete.
Rinse again and soak in cold water. Usually, two lye baths are enough for the small Mission olives seen in specialty produce stores. If one more bath is necessary, soak in a fresh lye solution of 5 quarts cold water mixed with 5 tablespoons lye for 12 more hours; then drain and rinse with cold water.
Soak the olives in fresh, cold water, changing the water three (or more) times a day for the next three days. At the end of three days, taste an olive to make sure that there is no trace of lye flavor remaining.
In a clean glass, ceramic, or food-grade plastic container, make the brine by combining 5 quarts cold water with 5 tablespoons sea salt and soaking the olives for at least a day.
The olives are now ready to be transferred to pint jars for storage in the refrigerator for up to one year.
Lye can cause serious burns. Keep lemon or vinegar handy to neutralize any lye that splashes onto the skin. If lye gets into your eyes, bathe them in running water and call your doctor. If lye is swallowed, call your doctor, drink milk or egg whites, and do not induce vomiting.
- Use olives that are mature but still green.
- Purchase lye in the "cleanser" section of your grocery store (see warning above).
- Store in the brine solution in a cool, dark place, preferably the refrigerator, or marinate and store in the refrigerator. Use within two months.
This recipe is provided by Maggie Blyth Klein (Aris Books) and reprinted with permission.