It turns out those olives you can buy ready to eat from any deli can be made at home for free in just 18 days and 9 hours. Ismael and his father have harvested the oil producing olives and taken the last sacks for pressing, but there are still many trees around the house bearing the olives used for marinating and eating. My former neighbour Mari cornered me in Zahara last week and asked if I’d made my aceitunas de mesa. When I said I hadn’t she gripped my arm and gave detailed instructions on how to do it, along with a Tupperware tub of some she had made earlier which were strong stuff.
I reluctantly, dutifully collected 25kg, which is plenty enough to go with a glass of wine. For several hours afterwards I sat in the garage while it rained and less enthusiastically sorted through them, throwing out any that looked too black or too green, then whacking the remaining ones with the base of a bottle to mash them up a bit.
After this I floundered. Everyone has their own method and I’d received conflicting advice. I had to soak them but some say in salt water, others, just water. Some say leave them in the same water for the first three days, others say change the water every day from day 1. Some say leave them for two weeks, others for three weeks. The one thing I didn’t do which I definitely had to do was put a big plate on top of the olives so they are completely submerged.
These are the steps I took:
- Changed the (unsalted) water every day for 18 days, then drained the olives, and hauled them into the kitchen to bottle them.
- Made some brine. I used litre bottles, first putting in a couple of big tablespoons of salt dissolved in boiling water, then topping the water up to just under 2/3 full. Threw in a bit of sugar, and then filled to the top with vinegar, and shook it all about.
- I then set about lighting a fire and boiling a couple of dozen jars six at a time, for 10 minutes of rollicking boiling, in a large pail to sterilise them, dropping in the lids at the end. (You can skip this four hour stage if you have an oven, or a dishwasher.)
- About this stage in the process I lost all interest in bottling olives.
- However, I continued, and ladled in the olive slosh, making sure to pack them in well, then stuck in garlic and chilli, and poured in the brine to the very, very top, and stuck on the lid. Job done.
It took 18 days and 9 hours. Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.