Jan 26, 2011

Lye Cured Green Olives - Italian Style

Photo from Sunset.com
While this method of curing olives might sound a bit strange, what you end up with are the most deliciously smooth, almost buttery textured olives. They remind me of creamy little Avocados. This is an absolute "must try" for all you olive lovers. Once you try these homemade olives you'll be hooked!

As you may know I'm an avid olive lover! My favourite olives have always been those super tasty, rich & tangy Kalamata olives, particularly the giant or "Collosal Kalamata". That is, until I first tried these green olives cured in a mild lye (caustic soda) solution at Nonna Serafina's many years ago.

They now share equal 1st place with the Kalamata olives! It really was "love at first bite" ;) She would put them into a serving bowl, sprinkle some fennel seeds over and finish with a good drizzle of the finest extra virgin olive oil. Back in those days they used to go to a local farm in the Adelaide Hills, pick the olives and make the oil themselves using a special press the farmer had.

Olives are in season and at their best around mid-Autumn in Australia, mid March to early April. Most good Green Grocers either stock them or you can usually order them in. Always remember to ask for large olives, the larger the better!

You can cure as big (or small) a batch of olives as you like, just make sure the olives are always covered with liquid otherwise if they are left exposed to air they will start forming mold.

I normally carry out the curing process in a food-grade plastic bucket with a lid. I also put a plate on top of the olives with a small clean jar of water as a weight to keep the olives under the liquid.

    Important Note Before You Get Started:
    In Australia we call Sodium Hydroxide "Caustic Soda", whilst most Americans call it "Lye". As I've been making soap for many years using American "Lye Calculators" etc, I now use these names quite interchangeably, but bottom line is... it is "Sodium Hydroxide". You can buy it quite readily at the local supermarket.

    Being a Soap-Maker from way back I have learned to use common sense when hadling Lye/Caustic Soda as it is highly alkaline and can burn skin, trust me.. I know ;)

    For safety, wear long sleeves and rubber gloves whenever handling Lye/Caustic Soda.

    If the solution accidentally splashes on your skin, immediately apply plain vinegar which will neutralise the lye.

    ALWAYS add Lye/Caustic Soda to water - NEVER add water to caustic soda as it may "explode" or "boil over" and cause some real damage to your skin! 

    Don't let this step scare you off... the Lye solution used for this olive recipe is actually very very weak when compared to soapmaking.You'd be surprised at some of the commercial products containing Sodium Hydroxide.. whitening toothpaste is just one example!

    Lye Cured Green Olives - Recipe
    • Green Olives (large are best, but smaller ones will do just as well).
    Note: Nonna used to lightly crush them with a rock, leaving the pit intact. I leave them uncrushed, uncut and whole (what can I say, I like shortcuts!).
    • Make a Lye (Caustic Soda) solution using - 1 Flat Tblsp Lye to : 1 Litre Water - remember to add the lye to the water.
      • Make enough to cover the olives. Cover with lid, then leave for 24 hours.
      • Drain & be sure to be wearing rubber gloves.
      • Make a fresh Lye solution & leave for another 24 hours.
      • Drain off lye solution wearing rubber gloves.
      • Soak the olives in fresh water for 4 - 6 days, changing the water every day - this will remove the lye as well as the bitterness of the olives.
      • After this time take an olive and cut a slither off to expose the flesh. Put the olive to your tongue and if it no longer stings it's ready to be put in brine.  (Don't worry if it does sting, after 4-6 days of being soaked in plain water it's very mild - more like a tingle)
      • Drain off fresh water.
      • Make a brine solution using - 1/4 Cup Pure Sea Salt : 1 Litre Water.
      • It is normal for the brine to start forming a 'slimy', hazy skin, if this happens simply drain off all the brine and make up a fresh solution.
      • Leave them in the brine for about 2-3 days, changing the brine water each day.
      • You can now bottle them in large jars and keep in the fridge so they don't go too soft.

      Curing olives is really simple, however it does require a few minutes a day of your undivided attention during the curing process as the liquid must be changed daily. But, it is definitely worth the effort!

      I have kept these olives in the fridge for as long as a year or more and they're still perfectly delicious.

      Share & enjoy your olives!

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