Olives must first be cured before eating, because eating a raw olive will be guaranteeing a nasty taste in your mouth with a distinct possibility of getting a stomach ache as well. There are many different ways to cure olives. The only way we've tried to date is using lye.
Yes, lye, that caustic chemical probably better known for its toilet bowl cleaning properties. There was a time when you could buy lye straight off the shelf of the local grocery or hardware store. When we first started curing olives we would buy a couple cans of Red Devil lye. It came in small cans (about 16 ounces), was pure lye with nothing added, and therefore was perfect for our intended use.
Unfortunately lye is/was a chemical used in the manufacturing of crank and was eventually removed from the shelves. You may remember the same thing happened when the enterprising makers of illicit drugs discovered how to use over the counter pseudoephedrine drugs to make their wares. Now those medicines are only available behind the counter and they are limited to how much can be bought by one person.
So with a sick olive tree (we think it has developed a case of verticillium wilt) and the inability to find small quantities of pure lye we put our olive curing on hold. Over the last five years we have been cutting the sick parts of our olive tree out, which is the recommended treatment, and it has been showing signs of a minor recovery. Formerly the fruit would all ripen at various stages, and now they are ripening at the same time. (A total recovery is not likely though. We've probably just prolonged its life a little.) Also, with more homesteading type blogs on the internet I've been able to find the smaller quantities more suitable for our needs. Thank you home soap makers!
Here is the food grade lye we found on-line (http://www.aaa-chemicals.com/).
Our olives are usually ready to be picked around the first week of September. Good help for picking is a plus!
Most of the olives we processed came from our tree. Unfortunately I can't tell you what variety we have. We did manage to find another tree somewhere and supplemented what we picked at home. All together we picked about 9 gallons.
After having done this for several years before and keeping (fairly) good notes on what we did each year we think we now have a good recipe. We mix 36 ounces of lye in 19 gallons of water. The olives are put in this mixture for 12 hours. We use a rubber/plastic garbage can. Metal should be avoided at all costs because of the possibility of a chemical reaction that would cause discoloration and/or taint the taste.We use a piece of wood cut into a circle to fit the inside of the garbage can. This helps hold the olives down.
Also, once again, because the lye is caustic, it is important that proper safety precautions are taken. Make sure to wear safety goggles/glasses, long sleeved shirt and pants, rubber gloves, and waterproof boots. Even if this means the boot must be duct-taped to seal any holes!
We have a five gallon bucket with lots of holes in the bottom, like a bucket sieve. After 12 hours curing in the lye solution the olives are removed. Then they are placed in plain water to leach the lye out. The water should be changed 2 to 3 times a day for about 3 days. There will be a noticeable difference in the color of the water as it is changed. It will start out dark brown and by the end of the third day it will be quite a bit lighter.
Here you can see the difference between a totally raw olive and one that has been lyed. The raw olive is on the left. Notice the sharp difference in color from the outside to the pit. Compare that to the processed olive on the right with the color basically the same throughout.
After the lye treatment, and after the leaching in the water, it is time for the brine. We mix 3 pounds of salt with 12 gallons of water. The olives are left in the brine for 3 days.
Now it's time to can the olives. I got all my equipment ready: the jars, lids and rings, the olives, of course, and the flavoring. Here I'm using garlic.
The canning brine consists of one cup of salt to 10 quarts of water. I like to make several layers of garlic and olives. You can never have too much garlic! The jars are then filled with the canning brine to about 1/4 inch from the top.
The jars are sealed and placed in a 180º to 200º water bath for 20 minutes.
I even did 6 of the Weck jars with the rubber seals. I can't help it but they make me nervous. (Change is hard for me!)
I also did a few jalapeno flavored olives and some habanero flavored olives.
All told I canned 63 1/2 pints, about 7.9 gallons! My final tally was 37 pints of garlic; 6 pints of habanero; and 11 1/2 pints of jalapeno olives (6 sliced in rounds, 5 1/2 sliced lengthwise with seeds removed).
The only thing I have left to do is make some labels.
I'm thinking we've got our Christmas presents covered this year! What flavor do you want?