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Stories from the valley

Curing Olives at Home

Contributed by Tim Johnson

Olives trees are all over the Sacramento Valley and in the Sierra Foothills. Long before the growing interest in the region to produce award winning olive oil, early farmers and settlers planted mission olives trees on ranches and homesteads. If you know of one of these trees – you are in luck! You can make your own cured olives. 

olives on tree branch

Green or Black?

Walk up to an olive tree and you will see either green olives or black olives. While it may be tempting to think that the black olives are ready to go – not the case. While very ripe (ala black or purple) all olives have a ton of compound called oleuropein and they are stunningly bitter. Whether green or purple/black, the process of curing them takes out the bitterness and then replaces it with a nice salty brine!


Making Green Olives

You can cure olives a number of ways. All require a process of water, salt or sodium hydroxide (lye) to remove the bitter compounds and then replace with a brine. All may look a bit scary at first, but heck this is a pandemic and playing with your food is fun!

I like the lye cured olives since that is how my grandfather used to make them. I will always remember eating them by the handful out of the crock in the garage on cool winter days. You can also cure them with water, salt brine only or even salt the ripe olives and let the moisture be drawn out 

ceramic curing jar

Step-by-Step Methods 

The Sacramento Valley’s own very own Hank Shaw has a great piece on lye cured olives at Honest Food.

My personal favorite and everything you want to know about olives and the many ways to cure them is in the great UC publication on curing olives at home.