Winter is well along in southern Australia, yet we’re still enjoying our summer crops – some from the freezer, but also all those things the cook has pickled so that they last well in storage for the lean times in late winter and spring – pickled cucumbers, kimchee, sauerkraut and olives.
I had never set out to grow olives, but nevertheless, an olive tree grew. Perhaps I threw an olive pip into that piece of garden, or perhaps a bird brought it. However it got there, this olive tree grew so well that the darn thing was starting to cut out our winter sunshine and push aside orange and plum trees. And yes, it had olives on it, but now they were so high up only the birds could reach them. So the cook placed all the usual pressures on the gardener (knowing full well the action of water dripping on stone) until neither tree nor gardener stood a chance. One proviso got though the negotiations - that the last crop of olives from this one tree would be salvaged rather than wasted. In due course, the olive tree was felled and cleared away, pickled olives appeared, and harmony was restored between cook and gardener.
Felling a big tree like this can wreak havoc, so it needed to be dropped in exactly the right spot; this was accomplished by tensioning a nylon rope from the tree top along the line of travel to a stake set deep in the ground, then the chainsaw did the rest.
Once down, olive harvesting was much simplified. A week later, the chainsaw and wheelbarrow took care of the wreckage and the olive pickling process began to appear all over the kitchen table and cupboards. I missed most of it, but here’s the cook’s recipe, garnered from the old Italian lady over the road, who still thinks in pints and cupfuls rather than litres and kilograms: -
Soak olives in fresh water for two to three weeks, changing the water daily – this soaks the bitterness out of the olives. When that’s done, immerse the olives in six pints of water, one pint of white vinegar, one cup of salt, a bay leaf and fennel seeds and bring the lot to boil. Simmer for ten minutes, let cool, sterilize jars then fill them three-quarters full with olives and this fluid. Add garlic and chillies to taste. Keep the olives immersed by covering them with vine leaves, then clip on the jar lids. Let stand for two to three months.
It appears that there are alternative ‘experimental’ recipes to the one described above – these involve salted water and letting the lot stand for six months, and an even rarer method involving olive oil instead of vinegar. But those are tales for another day. In the meantime, home-grown olives are appearing for the last time in among the gardener’s meals…