OLIVES- Elies

 

Gourmets from the Roman empire to the present day have valued the unripe fruit, steeped in brine, as challenging to the palate. Ancient Athena, goddess of wisdom, was challenged by Poseidon to provide the Greeks with the most useful divine gift. He produced war-horses, but Athena won with her creation, the olive tree. For modern Greeks olives and bread are the basic necessities of life. This versatile fruit and its oil has been found to reduce cholesterol as well as impart its distinctive taste to Mediterranean cuisine. Good olive oil is as revered as fine wine.

The olive groves of modern Greece, still are mysterious and very peaceful places. Olives thrive in the Mediterranean climate, with its long hot summers, and mild winters which can influence their texture. Olives grown on the arid rocky hillsides, for example, tend to be small and richer in flavour, whilst those grown on the coastal plains are much fatter and fleshier. In each olive producing area the local people delight in the flavour variation that makes their olives different from others and, they claim, better.

Olives straight off the tree are hard, bitter and inedible. Olives are usually harvested in autumn and considered sufficiently cured by early spring. Curing is what removes the bitterness. Once cured, olives can be stored with flavourings (lemon, oregano, garlic, and others), but the first step is the curing. Ancient Greeks cured olives by 'dry curing' with salt, and over the centuries, other methods were developed. Elitses are tiny, sweetly flavoured, purple-brown olives, and are grown extensively on Crete.

If you have olive trees and are interested in home-curing, it's easy it just takes time. There are several traditional methods used in Greek homes.

  

SALTED BLACK OLIVES - 'Seliniotikes or Alatsolies'

  

Take small black olives, wash and soak them in water for 3 days. The take a straw basket, layer olives with coarse sea salt (you'll need about 1 pound of salt for every 2 pounds of olives). Leave the olives outside (with plastic underneath to catch the juices that drain) for 3-4 weeks, shaking daily and adding a little more salt every 2-3 days. Put the olives in a strainer, sift them in order to remove the salt, wash. They can be marinated for a few days in olive oil to regain plumpness (this type of curing will shrivel them), or just coated well with olive oil (using your hands) before eating.

Alternatively, a more modern way is in glass jars, alternate layers of olives with coarse salt. Every day for 3 weeks, shake well and add more salt to absorb the juices. Test for bitterness (rinsing the olive first). Continue to cure if the bitterness remains, otherwise, add warm water to cover and 4 tablespoons of good quality red wine vinegar, and top with a layer of olive oil. They will be ready to eat after 4-5 days.

  

BLACK OLIVES IN BRINE

 

Wash olives. With a sharp knife, make a cut in the meat of the olive (top to bottom) without cutting the pit. In a pan, soak the olives in brine (1 part salt to 10 parts water). Make sure the olives are submerged (use something to weight them down) and cover. Cure the olives for 3 weeks, shaking the pan each day and changing the brine each week, then taste for bitterness - this could take up to 5-6 weeks depending on the olives. When they taste the way you want, place in jars with brine (1 part sea salt to 10 parts water), add 4 tablespoons of red wine vinegar and top with a layer of olive oil.

 

WATER CURING - SMASHED OR CRACKED OLIVES

  

Take large green olives and with a stone or mallet, crack the meat of the olive, taking care not to bruise the pit. Put the olives in a pan and cover with cold water for 6-8 days, changing the water twice a day, morning and evening, until the bitterness is gone (taste to test). When ready, fill the pan with brine * (about 1 part sea salt to 10 parts water) and lemon juice (about 1 part lemon juice to 10 parts water), transfer to jars if desired, and refrigerate for several hours before eating. 

*The water/salt ratio is perfect when a raw egg floats in it. For cracked olives, when they're ready to eat, transfer to a brine that's less salty to keep for long periods.

 
 
 
 
 
 

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