A Quick Guide to Preserving Olives
Many people have olive trees growing in their yards but they never do anything at all about preserving olives themselves. You don’t have to be a big-time olive producer to try preserving olives and you can have some excellent results. There are several different methods of preserving olives at home, but they all involve the use of lye and/or salt.
The first thing you need for preserving olives is the olives themselves. They should be green, straw-colored or even bright red. Black, ripe olives are not the best to preserve as they are often too ripe. Purplish or just-ripening black olives should turn out okay. Next, you will need to find a glass, stoneware or very heavy plastic container.
One of the ingredients in preserving olives is lye. Lye is sodium hydroxide. It also goes by the name of caustic soda, and it is poisonous to humans. That means you need to be very careful about not getting any lye on your clothes, skin or in contact with the eyes. If you do get any in your eyes, flush them out with lots of cold water. Don’t ever drink any product containing lye. Also, always double check that the product you are using is 100% lye. Some lye products contain other chemicals which cannot be used in curing olives.
The first step is either to pick your own olives or buy fresh olives from a farmer’s market or other type place. A good number to start out with is five gallons of olives. Then, obtain your lye. Lye can be found at many hardware stores and at farm supply stores. Lye is used in soap making so you can usually find some close-by, no matter where you live.
Other utensil-type items you will need for preserving olives are two five-gallon buckets with covers (food grade if you can locate any), rubber gloves, clean water and a clean, wooden stirring stick around three feet long. As noted above, a good container will be made of glass or ceramic materials.
Set your container on the stove and bring to a boil six to eight cups of water. Then add one tablespoon of lye at a time to the water until you have ten spoonfuls in the container. You will need to be stirring the liquid every time you add lye. Do not stand right over the pot and breathe in the vapor as it is very toxic.
The water and lye should be allowed to cool. While that’s happening, add some fresh, clean cold water to your olives that have been just sitting there. Add an equal amount water to the amount of lye you dissolved. After the water/lye mixture has cooled add it slowly to the olives, stirring as you pour. This should be enough liquid to cover both five-gallon containers of olives. Set a plate on top of the olives in both containers. The purpose is for the weight to hold the olives down, fully immersed in the liquid. Then put a cover on the containers so no one can get into them, especially children or pets.
During each of the next twelve hours, take off the cover, mix the olives with your stick, and return the cover to the container. Always wear gloves when you open the containers and stir. The water will start turning brown, and this is an indication that the bitterness is leaving the olives. After the twelve initial hours, check out the progress by cutting open an olive. If it is entirely brown inside, the lye has done its job. If it is still white and/or dry near the pit, it means you need to continuing soaking and stirring until the brown color goes completely up to the pit.
Once your olives are all brown inside, it’s time to remove the lye solution and pour in clean water. Rinse off your plate and again place it on top of the olives and close the cover. Stir every four hours. The bitterness of the olives and the lye is being removed, turning the water brown. At the eight-hour mark, pour out all the brown water and add clean water. Do this every eight hours for two to three days.
The final step in preserving olives is to add salt brine to the olives. Fill a pot with two quarts of boiling water and add around twenty tablespoons of salt. When it is cool, add it to the olives. Then add cold water until the olives are completely covered. Place the plate back on top of the olives and close the cover. Make sure to keep the buckets out of the sun. After twenty-four hours, the olives are just right for eating.