Antique popeye tin

Creative Commons License photo credit: hurricanemaine

Chaffin Family Orchards Challenges Bloggers to Rediscover the Ancient Art of Olive Curing

“I yam what I yam,” said Popeye, the cartoon sailor who graced the TV screen during my childhood. Probably his rationale for some male indiscretion that he had just been accused of, that part I don’t remember. Popeye was the first popular spinach pusher, and while it took me years to stomach spinach, his female sidekick, Olive Oyl had me loving Italian food from a very young age. Which is why I am up for an olive curing challenge!

For as many of my childhood and teen years as I can remember, Spaghetti and Meatballs were my favorite meal. I was of German Irish heritage, yet always celebrated my birthday with a feast of garlic bread, olive oil and tomato sauce, meatballs and a pile of pasta. Today, I shun the stuff as a low carb, nightshade avoider. But Olive Oyl and her skinny physique and olive pointed elbows came back to mind recently and brought back those wonderful memories of Italian abandon.

It all started with a blogger challenge thrown down by Chaffin Family Orchard to the Realfoodmedia.com bloggers. We are a group of 7 traditional food bloggers around the country, and we blog our hearts out about the dietary wisdom of Weston A. Price. The owner of Chaffin, Chris Kerston has noticed something about us radical food fermenters. None of us seem to know a thing about curing olives.

20 lbs of Olives, Yikes! Now What Do I Do?

20 lbs of Olives, Yikes! Now What Do I Do?

The Olive Oyl Experiment

Since Chaffin is an olive grower, he has shipped each of us 20 lbs of olives and dared us to dive in to learn the ancient art of olive curing!

There are a number of methods, and since this is a ton of olives I am going to try several different curing methods, to see which work for an Irish lass who looks a lot like a blonde Olive Oyl these days. I am tall and skinny in part due to my deficient modern diet when I was young (the tall part) and in part due to the health kick I have been on for 5 years which has trimmed me down from  a size 12 to a size 6.

I yam what I yam, a German Irish lass with a penchant for Italian eats, and luckily olives are still on my good list! So, this could be a bonanza for us, as, after I cure the olives, I plan to experiment with different seasonings and spices as the next step.

First Method–Water Cured Olives

Filtered Tap Water and a Stock Pot for Curing

Filtered Tap Water and a Stock Pot for Curing

For this, I am using filtered municipal water. We have a whole house water filter and a reverse osmosis filter at the kitchen sink. I am going to see if this ultra filtered water will work for curing olives. The Wikihow recipe I am using calls for breaking the olives with a wooden mallet, so I am using my trusty kraut pounder (as any good German would do).

The curing vessel I have chosen is my All Clad stock pot.

Kraut Pounder Used for Whacking Olives to Break the Skin

Kraut Pounder Used for Whacking Olives to Break the Skin

I am having trouble with the technique, either I am only bruising the olive and not breaking the skin, or I am getting multiple fractures in the skin, or I am cracking the darn things in half, and only the stem is keeping them intact.  In fact, they look like little pac men or Audrey II babies (the flesh eating vegetable of Little Shop of Horrors fame), where the pit is the tonque hanging out of the olive. YIKES.  But I have noticed there is a definite ring to the perfect WHACK. Given enough time and olives, I think I could achieve olive busting mastery.

Nitey Nite Olive Audrey II Babies!

Nitey Nite Olive Audrey II Babies!

The recipe says to weigh the olives down so as to keep them all underwater. Try as I might, nothing in my kitchen would fit inside this pot. So, I abandoned the olives to sink or swim. The next morning, I noticed all the brown spots on olives exposed to the air. So I made them a wet blanket of cheesecloth. Hoping that solves that problem, but we will see.

So, now on to the next method.

Second Method–Salt Cure Olives

Using Kitchen Shears

Using Kitchen Shears

For this method, I am using a rustic girls recipe, which calls for slicing the olive skin vertically. I tried both kitchen shears and a knive for this approach. The kitchen shears seemed great for a while, but repetitive motion injury seemed to be approaching, so I switched to the knife for the other half of the olives. It was quicker and seemed to not be as stressful on my hand.

Kitchen Knife is Ideal

Kitchen Knife is Ideal

The curing vessel I chose for this experiment is my large crockery bread bowl. Don’t try and find this bowl, as the company is now out of business, as home bread making seems to be a dying art. By the way, if you know of any company on earth that still makes this kind of bowl, my Mommie wants one. Do Tell, in the comments below!

This time, I am using spring water, which is delivered to our home in 5 gallon jars. We are hedging our bets in this household, since no matter how much research we do, we can’t seem to find a final answer to the question, “what water is safe to drink?” So, half the time I use my ultra filtered tap water, the rest of the time I use the spring water. If you know the definitive answer to this question, please throw it in the comments below!

Bread Bowl and Dinner Plate Work Great

Bread Bowl and Dinner Plate Work Great

I used my same wet blanket method the first day, and this morning added a dinner plate on top, because (delayed intelligence) I realized this bowl was wider and I did have something that would fit the bill for weighing the olives down and keeping them underwater.

Just shows you the importance of taking inventory of ingredients and utensils before you embark upon a new recipe. Being a creative type, I just don’t do that very well, so learn from my impulsiveness!

Third Method–Composting Olives

I have 1/3 of the box of olives left, and want to do the composting method. I have an email in to a guy that knows how to do this if he responds, I will employ his secrets, otherwise your intrepid Olive Oyl is going to wing it. I plan to use my ceramic crock pot for the curing vessel.

Olives Ship with some Cute Little Anomolies!

Olives Ship with some Cute Little Anomolies!

Pray you guys that he writes me back, or this might be an odorific disaster. My Popeye might banish me and my olives to the bilge!

If you would like to join the Olive Oyl Experiment, visit Cheeseslave blog’s resource page and order some olives. Scroll way down the page. Under Fruits and Vegetables you’ll see the hyperlink to Chaffin Family Orchards. Click on it to go straight to the actual grower of these green goodies! The cost is approximately $35.00 for 2o lbs, including shipping.

Please let me know how you are doing with your olives by submitting your blog posts to HartkeisOnline.com, or comment on any of my Olive Oyl Experiment blog posts. Bloggers, we will add your links to my posts, just like a blog carnival! It will be loads of fun! And, 20 lbs of olives will be enough to make lots of hostess or holiday gifts, a great way to share your penchant for traditional foods with others!

Remember, us shipmates are all in this together! Let’s keep traditional food culture afloat by learning more about where olives come from and what to do with them to turn them into delicious food!

By the way, in your box of olives you will find some olives that have already shriveled and dried, a few leaves and even some colorful olives with magenta spots. I found it fascinating. I am also wondering if these anomolies will be useful in the composting method…STAY TUNED for more Olive Oyl Experiment posts!