This is the second time I have had raw olives. The first time was several years ago when American friends were visiting. They had gone to the little Saturday market and saw and decided to buy olives from one of the vendors. They said that the vendor was trying to tell them something about the olives but they didn’t understand her and so just smiled and held up a finger to indicate that they wanted one kilo. They brought them back to the apartment to share with us because the olives were black and beautiful and looking very tasty. The first bite proved that they were not. They were raw and bitter. We ended up not eating their market purchase.
Have you ever wondered about how someone got the idea that these apparently inedible fruits could be cured and thus made edible? And, after trying different ways of curing the olives, got someone to try them – the ancient equivalent of a “Mikey likes it”person? What about all of the missteps – trying apparently edible gatherings only to discover that they were toxic? I imagine that “Mikey” could have been pretty reticent having seen the negative effects on his counterparts who tasted things toxic or poisonous…
As I searched the internet for methods for curing olives, I learned that the Greeks have been curing olives for centuries. A long time ago, they put the olives in cloth sacks and hung them from the boat wales so that the olives were splashed over and over again with salty sea water. Who thought of that?
Our good friends in Vaison have an olive tree and last year they harvested the olives, cured them and served them at apéros. Their olives were very tasty, so I asked their advice. They explained that the first thing to do is to make the olives less bitter. This is accomplished by soaking the olives in salt water and changing the water every day or so until the liquid was clear. This step took a couple of weeks. I tasted the olives every couple of days to see how bitter they still were and when I could eat the whole olive, I decided I could begin seasoning them.
One can also cure olives with lye but I chose the salt water method because I didn’t have lye and I didn’t like the idea of using a caustic chemical. Lye also works best with green olives (or so I read).
I used a solution of red wine vinegar and olive oil (white wine vinegar for green olives) to which I added herbs de
Provence, garlic and chilies. I am not
satisfied with the flavor yet so I plan to add more herbs and spices and let
them marinate until I have achieved a flavor that I am willing to share with
friends – when I hope they taste half as good as the ones done by our friends.