By MEREDITH KIRTON
Nothing says “Mediterranean” quite like an olive. These fruits have been used as a source of oil and flesh (once pickled) for Millennium, and these days are no less popular throughout the whole world. As a garden specimen they are also very adaptable and ornamental. The foliage is a beautiful silvery grey and very drought resistant once established and the plants themselves are also quite tolerant of cold.
Plants can grow in a number of ways, from espalier or “flat packed” against a wall, to standardized specimens or into trees, where they are normally kept pruned to about 4m tall. They need a well drained soil or pot to perform well, with adequate moisture over winter and spring when they are in blossom. Feed once a year with complete plant food. Cropping will normally take about 5 years to produce decent quantities. Olives are normally either for oil or fruit/pickling types, so be sure to choose a suitable variety that suits your need. Kalamata is probably the most popular.
Olives appear on the trees in Australia at Christmas time and are large enough to pick by about February for green olives and March/April for black olives. Of course, olives straight from the tree are totally inedible. At some point thousands of years back people realised however that soaking them in the sea for a few weeks washed out the bitterness and rendered them delicious.
Commercially olives are treated with caustic soda, and other numbered ingredients! If you’d rather replicate the Ancient Greeks and Romans and have salt brined olives, it’s easy, but does take some weeks.
To Pickle, soak olives in water for 10 days, changing water daily. Make a brine solution of 1 cup salt to 4 litres of water. Soak olives in brine for about 4 weeks, changing the brine solution every week. The time it takes varies greatly depending upon the olive variety. Weight the fruit under the water with a clean plate and you can speed the process up by cutting the skin, this will allow the brine soak into the olive more.
Some people prefer to make “sultana olives” which just uses straight rock salt instead of brine to draw out the bitter juices. They layer olives and rock salt alternatively in a plastic container, punch holes in the lid and the base and turn the container daily allowing the juices to escape. After about 10 days the olives should not be bitter and should look wrinkled.
With either method, when you are happy with the taste, store them in sterilised jars with fresh brine and a little olive oil to help keep them fresh. You can add herbs etc 24 hours before use by pouring off the brine, adding oil and herbs and then enjoying these flavours imbued the next day.
Photography by SUE STUBBS | Blog designed by RED PEPPER GRAPHICS