Thursday, April 11, 2013


Add to Google Reader or HomepageA French friend gave me a bag of black olives – raw olives. Raw olives are VERY bitter and thus inedible. They must be cured before one can enjoy eating them.

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.

It has been fun learning a new skill (I use the word “skill” VERY loosely.)


  1. I like the way you're thinking about "who thought of that and why". There are so many things like that, another one I just came across is dry cleaning. Originally the Romans dit it with ammonia derived from the urine of farm animals. Why did anyone think that would work!

  2. I just love that you are curing olives - vraiment Francais! Our friend and neighbor brought some back from California and put sliced lemon in hers and they had a nice flavor along with the herbs. Patricia Wells also has an excellent recipe in her first cook book for home cured olives and she also uses herbs but adds some olive oil as well for flavor. Yum!

  3. We have an olive tree in our backyard here in Northern California and this is the first year that we cured the olives at home. Shirley cured her olives with lye (I had reservations like you) and brined them using a recipe she found on line and they are fabulous. I was so impressed. Our olives are green so that maybe why they turned out so well.

  4. The term "cure" seems quite appropriate for raw olives.