It was inevitable that I would grow up loving olives. Aside from the fact that I was born to Greek parents, my father was born and raised in the Kalamata olive producing region of Messinia, Greece. In the small village of Magganiako, my grandparents cultivated olive trees on their land, and harvested olives for oil and eating, as their main source of family income. Olives are quite literally embedded deeply in my family roots. Those olive trees still stand strong, and year after year my cousin harvests them. You have never tasted an olive like this in your life. And you probably won’t come close to tasting one as good as this anywhere else in the world. Everything about them is perfect; their slightly pointy beautiful shape, their fleshy plumpness, and their smooth-on-the-inside yet slightly-crunchy-on-the-outside texture. When marinated in wine vinegar and olive oil, they are like shining jewels in a bowl of liquid gold.
When my late husband and I married and moved into our charming little abode, he insisted we mark our territory by planting a small olive tree in our five-meter-wide, two-metre-deep, front yard. A year later, he was adamant that we needed two more olive trees in the backyard. I shook my head both times. All I wanted was gardenias, hydrangeas and hedges… all he wanted was olive trees. The olive trees have grown and blossomed, and well and truly marked their territory as centrepieces in both our front and back yards. And for the last five years, they have blessed us with a very healthy few kilos of olives.
Harvest time has become a little tradition in our home. My father pulls out the old wooden ladder, rounds up his two little helpers, Dimitri and Zoe, and together the three of them carefully collect the black jewels spread across the span of the two trees. I love watching the three of them do this together, and I love seeing the excitement on Dimitri and Zoe’s faces as they watch their buckets fill up. This year is the first year that they harvested the olives without the watchful eyes of their father, and I would be lying if I said it didn't play on my emotions a little.
Everyone has their own way of curing and marinating olives, and that largely depends on how you enjoy eating them. I like my olives to have a nice saltiness about them, and a gentle hit of sourness from the wine vinegar they are marinated in. This recipe is to my taste, so if you prefer them less salty, add less salt. If you prefer them to be bitter, soak them for fewer days and use less or no vinegar. I developed this recipe talking to other olive growers, tasting people’s olives, and largely through my own trial and error.
- 1 kilogram black Kalamata olives
For final marinating
- 1 cup water
- 1/4 cup salt
- 2 heaped tablespoons whole black peppercorns
- 2 heaped tablespoons dried oregano
- 5 garlic cloves, peeled
- 3/4 cup red wine vinegar
- 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
- Discard any bruised or rotten olives.
- Remove any leaves or stalks from the olives and discard.
- Using a sharp knife, cut two vertical slits through the flesh of the olive, being careful not to cut all the way through to the seed of the olive
- Place the olives in a large colander and wash them under running cold water.
- Place the olives in a large bowl or bucket and fill with water until the olives are completely covered and submerged. Leave the olives in this water for 24 hours.
- Drain the water from the bowl and repeat step 4-5, washing the olives well each time. Each day when you go through this process, taste one of the olives to test for bitterness. The whole point of going through this daily water changing exercise is to clean the olives and remove as much bitterness from them as you can. Each batch of olives will be different, and everyone’s tastes will be different. I usually go through this process for at least four days.
- Wash and prepare the jars or containers you will be storing the olives in. I prefer to use sealable glass jars.
- Place the water and salt in a saucepan over medium heat. Once the salt has completely dissolved, remove from the heat and allow to cool completely.
- Place the washed olives into the glass jar. Pour the cooled salted water into the jar, until it has filled three quarters of the jar.
- Add the peppercorns, oregano, garlic cloves, vinegar and olive oil to the jar. Stir well with a long spoon.
- Place a piece of cling wrap or grease proof paper over the top of the olives, ensuring there is no gap between the layer of glad wrap and the olives. This will avoid mould building up. Place the lid on the jar and seal.
- The olives should be ready to eat in approximately four - six weeks (although I usually steal a few before then)
- When you do remove olives to eat them, give them in a stir in the jar first so they coat evenly in all the amazing juices and flavours. When you scoop them out into a bowl with a slotted spoon, top them up with a drizzle of olive oil, wine vinegar, fresh chillies and slices of garlic for added flavour.
Food photography, story and recipe creation by Effi Tsoukatos & Caterina Sterrantino for the Sydney Food Sisters