Olives Brined Greek-style (Almost My Grandfather’s Recipe)

ripe olives smOlives straight off the tree are mouth-puckeringly bitter. But transformed through brining or dry salting they become the delicious morsels we are familiar with. Here’s a Greek method of curing olives that starts with a salt brine and then adds flavor with a vinegar, herb, and oil finishing brine.

 

If you’re lucky enough to live in a place where olive trees grow (anywhere with a Mediterranean climate, including California, the Middle East, North Africa, parts of Australia, parts of Central and South America, and of course, Italy, Spain, France, Turkey, and Greece), then you can easily cure your own.

 

If you don’t live in any of those places, don’t despair. You can also find raw olives in late fall in some big city gourmet stores (New York City folks can get them at the Grand Central Market November through early December).

 

Although I grew up in California, I’ve spent most of my life in northeastern America where olive trees can’t grow because the winters are too cold for them to survive. But Papou, my Greek grandfather, used to cure his own olives. I got to visit him in Greece a few times when I was a kid.

 

I remember him cutting a slit down each raw olive lengthwise, which is what I still do today.

slicing olives sm

 

Then he’d put the olives in a mesh bag and hang them over the edge of the pier in front of his house. There they’d be washed by the salty waters of the Gulf of Patras for a few weeks, during which time the bitterness would leach out of the olives.

 

You say you don’t happen to live near clean-but-salty seawater? Neither do I. No worries. The following recipe translates my Papou’s olive-curing method into something you can do in your kitchen. It may lack the ambience of the Mediterranean, but the olives are just as tasty.

 

When I moved to Jerusalem, I found myself surrounded by an abundance of olive trees to forage. I did a little research and learned how to brine them in saltwater in a way that mimics Papou’s seawater cure. But something was still missing: I was sure I remembered that there was another step after the salt brining.

 

What happened next was magical: I had just put several pounds of olives into their initial saltwater soak when I decided to reorganize my office. From one of the bookshelves I took down an old spiral notebook stuffed with recipe cards and clippings from food magazines. One recipe card fell out.

 

It was in my Grandma Nea’s handwriting, and had on it the recipe for “How to Finish Olives So That They Are Good to Eat.” Her instructions made it clear that this was the final flavoring step after the salt brine treatment.

 

I read the ingredients: vinegar, water, herbs, a top layer of olive oil…Yes! This is what I remembered Papou’s olives soaking in…But I guess they weren’t just Papou’s olives, after all.

 

Grandma Nea and Papou’s Olives: Salt Brine Method #1 (stayed tuned for Method #2, #3, etc…)

ripe olives close sm

You can use under-ripe olives for this method, but it is especially suitable for fully ripe, purple to almost black olives.

 

  1. Remove any leaves and twigs from your olive harvest. Put the olives in a colander and hose them down well using either a garden hose or your kitchen faucet.

 

  1. Use a paring knife to cut a single slit lengthwise in each olive. As you work on this, discard any olives that are shriveled or have insect-bored holes.

 

  1. Put the olives into a clean glass jar, or a few glass jars. Narrow-neck jars are better than widemouth jars for this because they eliminate the need to weight the olives in order to keep them submerged in the brine.

 

  1. Prepare a brine of 1/3 cup coarse, non-iodized salt (such as kosher salt) dissolved in a quart of water. Bringing the water to a boil decreases the time it takes the salt to dissolve, but then you have to wait until it cools to room temperature before proceeding to the next step. Feel free to speed things up by putting the hot brine in the refrigerator.

 

  1. Pour the room temperature brine over the prepared olives. Fill all the way to the rim of the jar. Loosely cover the jar with the lid. Some brine will overflow. That’s okay. Place the jar on a small plate to catch any additional overflow. Leave at room temperature for 1 week.

 

  1. Drain the olives. Cover them with fresh brine using the same ratio of salt to water as before. Cover and let soak for 1 month. Drain again. Taste. If they are still too bitter for you, cover them with salt brine again and give them another month. Otherwise, proceed to the next step.

 

  1. Combine ¼ cup salt, 2 cups vinegar, 1 gallon water. Stir to dissolve the salt. Pour this liquid over the olives, tucking in some cloves of garlic cut in half. Also tuck in sprigs of fresh herbs. Grandma Nea recommended oregano, parsley, celery leaves, and dill. She also added the note why not use some sage (but I don’t know if she actually ever tried this, and I haven’t yet).

 

  1. Pour ¾ to 1 inch of extra virgin olive oil over the other ingredients. Wait at least a week for the flavors to mingle before eating them (but they will keep for months).

 

Note: Grandma Nea made small, single jar batches and stored them in her big American-size refrigerator. Back in Greece, Papou made big batches and stored them in a plastic tub at room temperature. Your choice, depending on your storage space situation (I do both).

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27 responses to “Olives Brined Greek-style (Almost My Grandfather’s Recipe)”

  1. Francois says:

    And South Africa

  2. Anne Sendor says:

    This is exciting! We have just moved into a house with an olive tree and I was looking for a good way to cure the olives. Greek is great to me! Can you tell me where you find the best jars and storage containers? I’m in Tzfat, but come to Jerusalem often enough.

  3. Dom says:

    What kind of vinegar, please?

  4. dom says:

    so good! thank you for the recipe – this is our new go-to recipe.

  5. Mark W Clark says:

    O have 6 olive trees in my yard.I’m gonna try to make some after I found out they are edible olives..ok it doesn’t say how many lbs or quantity of olives to use.can anyone help me ?

    • Leda says:

      As long as the brine(s) completely cover the olives, you are good to go. You can always make more brine (both the salt and the vinegar-based) if you have more olives.

  6. Mark W Clark says:

    I have 6 olive trees in my yard in Phoenix Arizona.I’m gonna try to make some after I found out they are edible olives..ok it doesn’t say how many lbs or quantity of olives to use.can anyone help me ?

    • Leda says:

      As long as the brine(s) completely cover the olives, you are good to go. You can always make more brine (both the salt and the vinegar-based) if you have more olives.

  7. Mark W Clark says:

    I’m in Phoenix Arizona …Does anybody know how much I need to water my olive Trees ?

    • Leda says:

      As long as the brine(s) completely cover the olives, you are good to go. You can always make more brine (both the salt and the vinegar-based) if you have more olives.

  8. Jeff Wilens says:

    Hi – Can you please explain how many olives (lbs.) this mixture recipe applies to?

    Thanks.

    • Leda says:

      As long as the brine(s) completely cover the olives, you are good to go. You can always make more brine (both the salt and the vinegar-based) if you have more olives.

  9. Robert Jubb says:

    We live in Cornwall UK on the same latitude as labrador in Canada and but the climate is kept mild due to the gulf stream. Our olive trees have produced fruit this year but they are green. The recipe sounds great and we love Greek olives

  10. I live in Mexico and this year my olñive trees produced. Only one tree but it gave me quite a few. I saw this recipe after reading MANY and used it. It was perfect! So easy and they turned out just wonderful. I think I\’ll replace several of my decorative trees on the rooftop terrace to grow more olive treen. Thank you so much for sharing this wonderful recipe with everyone.

  11. Blair Gordon says:

    Leda,

    Just in case my previous email didn’t go through, I’m trying to find out which book has “Olives Brined Greek Style” in it to excerpt for our upcoming new magazine, Fermentation, coming this fall! Could you send me a Word doc of the recipe, or let me know which book it’s published in?

    Thanks!
    Blair Gordon,
    Assistant Editor, Ogden Publications

  12. Danni Bestall says:

    Hi! We tried your recipe and after the first week of being in the brine, we lift the lids of the jars and they were all mouldy?! Any tips? Thanks, Danni.

    • Leda says:

      Apologies for the WAY belated reply. If it was white mold, that’s not uncommon and not dangerous — just skim it off. If it was black or dark green mold, that’s a throwaway. Cause can be warm temperatures during the fermentation.

  13. Kathy says:

    Could you send me No 2 Olives Brined Greek Style ( almost my grandfathers recipe

  14. Laura says:

    I love this recipe, and the story that goes with it. Thank you! Can you tell me what sort of vinegar you prefer? Red wine?

  15. Jay Berry says:

    Do you have to refrigerate the olives after the final step

  16. Ramona says:

    Wow, what a beautiful family story along with this! When I read about your grandmother’s recipe card falling down to you it just gave me chills. Thanks for the extra personal touch! I’ll be trying this out with my olive trees next year!

  17. Adelle says:

    We recently moved into a property with 17 olive trees and have since harvested and brined our first batch. I have just finished the last step with the marinade, however wasn\’t sure what level the salt/vinegar mix should be. Are you submerging the olives? Or just covering them? Thank you for sharing your family recipe and story – it made my first olive curing experience even more special.

  18. Trudy says:

    I live in Nebraska, northern central United States. The winters here are somewhat long and too cold for olive trees. I do remember my great grandmother teaching me how to make green plum olives. However I cannot find that recipe. We found a great bunch of wild green plums this year and I am using your recipe for Greek olives. They have been in the brine only 5 days and they taste fantastic. I’m going to complete the whole process but they are already so close to my great grandmothers recipe. Thank you for sharing.

  19. Matt L says:

    I was doing some work at someone\’s house and saw some ripe olives on his tree. He said I could have as his didn\’t know what they were. I found this recipe and gave it a go; I started this small batch on October 31, 2020. Its now February and with many brine changes they are perfect. Patience is key here for sure.I think I have some very tannin heavy olives or whatever since it took a long time to get the bitterness out. I did add some vinegar along the way. I\’ll be doing this again next year but with a much heftier batch!

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