How to Preserve Olives at Home

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Photo courtesy of Serge Bertasius Photography
Hello everyone! It’s olive season around this time of the year and as I’m always on the lookout for new things to learn I listened intently as my friend Miranda told me all about her adventures preserving olives. I managed to convince Miranda that she needed to write up the experience for me into a post for the blog, and here she has graciously agreed to do so. An apology as neither of us remembered to get some photos so I’ve substituted as best I could find. A huge thanks to Miranda for sharing her time and knowledge with me and with all of you as well. Hopefully you learn something new and have a go at preserving, even if on a tiny scale at home yourself. 
Happy preserving, and see you next time – Marielle 

Enter Miranda

How is it that people discovered that olives, which taste horribly bitter off the tree, become delicious after soaking them in brine? This is a question that perplexes me each year around May when olives are in season and it’s time to preserve them.
I’ve been interested in making my own olives before. But I was intimidated by the seemingly complex recipes requiring regular salting and water changing and therefore I never attempted to make them. So last year when a dear friend asked if I wanted to come over to help her and her mum preserve olives I jumped at the chance. We spent a few hours sitting at her kitchen table slicing the 10kg of olives and having a chat. This year we went even larger scale – 20kg of olives from the market was jarred between us. And the very next day I preserved about 2 kg more, which my parents’ neighbour had gifted to me. 
The recipe

This is a simple recipe where you don’t have to fuss with the olives over a few days. You simply put them in the jar and leave them to do their thing. Compared to recipes where you change the water regularly, it will be longer before you have an edible product, but it will be just as tasty. Also the olives will retain a more ‘olivey’ flavour. 

You’ll need: glass jars, kitchen gloves, raw olives (see note), rock salt, lemon leaves, olive oil, a fresh egg (I’ll explain later), lemon and chilli (or any other flavourings).

1.      Sterilise enough glass jars to hold your olives by boiling them in a pan of water on the stove for 10 minutes.

2.      Wash your olives, lemon leaves, lemon and chilli in cold water.

3.      Prepare your brine (enough to fill your jars with the olives). Place water in a large bowl. This is going to sound strange but please stay with me. Place a raw egg in the bowl to check if the egg is fresh (it should sink to the bottom, if it doesn’t the egg probably isn’t fresh, so grab a fresh one). Take the egg out but don’t throw it away. Add a few tablespoons of salt and stir into the water. Keep stirring until it has dissolved. Put the egg back in. If the egg floats, your brine is salty enough. If your egg still sinks, add more salt and repeat the process until the egg floats. Fool proof!

4.      Prepare your olives by removing any stems and with a knife make three cuts longways in the sides down to the pip. The cuts should be evenly spaced and the olive should remain intact (i.e. you shouldn’t be cutting any bits of the olive off). Wear gloves to stop your fingers staining. Cutting the olives allows the brine to penetrate the olive. You can skip this step if you plan on storing the olives for two years or so, but if you want to eat you olives beforehand, you need to slice them. 

You may be tempted to try a raw olive. I won’t deter you. But I assure you, you won’t be going back for more!

Photo courtesy of adamr at

5.      Place the olives in the jar. The slits may start to discolour but this is ok. Add brine as you go to minimise the discolouration.

6.      Add slices of lemon and chilli as you go. How much of each you add will depend on how spicy and lemony you want your olives. As a general rule, I used a chilli and 1-2 lemon wedges per 500ml. Lemon and chilli is what we used the first year and that turned our great. This year I experimented with combinations of lemon, chilli, peeled garlic cloves, peppercorns, bay leaf, lemon thyme and rosemary, but I’ll have to wait until later in the year to see how they turned out.

7.      Once the jar is almost full up to the neck, place 3-4 lemon leaves on the top to cover the olives. The leaves will curve down the side of the jar a bit. The leaves keep the olives under the brine and stops them from spoiling. Note: the olives will become more buoyant after a few hours in the brine.

8.      Cover with a layer of olive oil to seal the top. Ideally you want about at least half a cm gap between the oil and the rim of the jar.

9.      Close the jars and store in a cool dark place. Place some newspaper underneath as some olive oil and brine might seep out the top during the preserving process.

10.  Now all you have to do is wait. The olives are best after a year, and even as long as 2 years. If you’re impatient you can have them after a month or so, they will just be a bit crunchy! Unsliced olives can be kept for two or so years.
Photo courtesy of Mister GC
Note: We used green kalamata olives which you can get from the market and some fruit shops around May each year. The olives my parents’ neighbours gave me were black kalamatas, so I tried the same recipe using them. I’ll have to wait and see how they turn out though my friend’s mum (our expert) normally uses green, but she said you can use black olives too.

I recommend you give it a try during olive season. I’d suggest you invite a few people over to help you. Half the fun is sitting around the table catching up with your friends and family. The delicious olives are a bonus!

Photo courtesy of Serge Bertasius Photography

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