How to pickle olives

Flavours of home is a series of recipes from around the world cooked by people at home in Otago. It's olive-harvest time in Central Otago this month, and this week David Smith, who grows olives in Tarras, and Afife Harris, from Lebanon, show us how to pickle fresh olives.

The olive presses in Central Otago are working round the clock at this time of year as the olive harvest is in full swing.

Extra virgin olive oil from Central tends to be peppery and grassy, often with a bite at the finish - delicious for dipping fresh bread or drizzling on a salad.

David Smith and Afife Harris. Photo by Craig Baxter.
David Smith and Afife Harris. Photo by Craig Baxter.
David Smith and his wife Carolyne have 300 olive trees in Tarras and they plan to market their oil under the label Scotchbrook and Goodfellow. He says it is the relatively cool, dry climate - and in particular the hot days and cold nights - that give Central olives their special flavour.

Most Central olives are Tuscan varieties, but there are others, such as the Israeli barnea and a few Greek varieties.

Afife Harris likes to pickle her own olives every year. It reminds her of her childhood when the family picnicked under the olive trees after harvesting the olives and then spent the evenings sorting through them.

They removed leaves and twigs and washed the fruit, then separated the olives into three piles - green olives, black olives (which are really more reddy brown) and shrivelled olives.

Some of the black ones went to make oil, and the rest were pickled and regularly enjoyed as a snack. Raw olives are bitter, so they have to be pickled or salted.

The simplest way with fresh olives was to slit them, sprinkle them with coarse salt and, after a couple of days, eat them while they were still bitter, she said.

To pickle green olives -

7kg green olives
1kg coarse salt
500g lemons, chopped
1-3 fresh chillies or to taste
½ cup olive oil.

Wash green olives, cover with water and allow to soak. Change the water every day for a week.

Drain and add fresh water and salt, stirring until the salt has dissolved. Add lemon cut in small chunks, and pieces of chilli, and spoon into clean jars.

Make sure the liquid covers the olives, then top with about a tablespoon of olive oil per jar to keep the air out. Seal with a lid. These olives will be ready to eat in about four months and will keep for a year.

Tip: If you crack and bruise the green olives with a meat hammer or a stone first, they will cure faster and be ready to eat after two months.

Pickling black olives -

1kg black olives
1 Tbsp coarse salt
1 cup water if needed
olive oil to top

Mix the dry black olives with the coarse salt and stir every day for a week, until they start to ooze black juice.

Put them in clean jars with chunks of lemon, top with water and add about a tablespoon of olive oil per jar. Leave for a month before eating.

Dry pickling slightly shrivelled olives -

1 cup slightly shrivelled olives
1 Tbsp salt
Lemon pieces
chilli and olive oil

Mix the olives with the salt and pieces of lemon, some olive oil and chilli if you like.

Mix every day for a week. The olives will shrink and soften. Taste to see if they are ready to eat.


• Commercial olives are usually processed with lye (caustic soda) which has to be well washed out, and is not eco-friendly. Commercial olives may also be dyed black. Traditional methods use salt, and it takes longer for the olives to cure and the olives turn a drab olivey colour.

• Fresh olives are not readily available, but if you have an olive tree or know someone who grows them it is worth begging or buying some to preserve. They are harvested around June.

• Use coarse salt, not regular fine salt.

• Never use a metal container for storing olives.

• Mrs Harris does not use vinegar in the pickling mix as she says it spoils the flavour of the olives.

• A trick to make sure you have the right amount of salt has been handed down from generation to generation in Mrs Harris' family. To five cups of water add up to one cup of coarse salt. Stir until dissolved. When the proportion of salt and water is right, a fresh egg will float in the solution.

- Thanks to Afife Harris, Leith Distributors and Centre City New World.



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