The Olives: Part Three

Hiya, all!

This final post in the “olives” series is also my entry for my dear, dear pal Barbara’s spice challenge (“going back to school” and learning about spices). Now that the olives are ready – and that bay leaves had such an important part in creating their beautiful flavor – let’s learn a tad about them.

From the McCormick Spice Encyclopedia:

Bay Leaves or Laurel, are the dried leaves of the evergreen tree, Laurus nobilis. The elliptically shaped leaves are light green in color and brittle when dried. They have a distinctively strong, aromatic, spicy flavor. Bay Leaves is the approved term for this spice, but the name “laurel” is still seen frequently.

In Ancient Greece and Rome, bay leaves and branchlets were used as wreaths to crown their victors. Champions of the Olympic games wore garlands of bay leaves. Our word “baccalaureate” means “laurel berries” and signifies the successful completion of one’s studies. It alludes to the bay wreaths worn by poets and scholars when they received academic honors in ancient Greece.

Whenever I make soup, pasta sauce or anything that needs to taste rich, I add a leaf or two. They somehow add that little extra punch, and it’s hard to explain what, exactly, it is they do, but somehow they make any less-than-perfect soup, chowder or sauce, perfect.

Since bay leaves are quite strong in flavor, they are to be used in small quantities and discarded before eating. In the process of making olives, we added one or two leaves to each of the jars.

The picture really doesn’t do the olives justice. They came out delicious, and I suspect if we give them a few more days they’ll be even better. So, here’s the now-tried-and-true way to do it:

1. Upon getting your olives off the tree, soak them in clean water, for three days. Change the water daily. Optional but really improves the olives: make a small cut in each of them with a knife, or pound them with a heavy object so they are cracked. They will be tastier and absorb the marinade better and faster.

2. On the fourth day, get nice, clean jars and the following ingredients per 1 kg of olives:
* 1 red hot pepper
* 1/2 lemon
* 1 tablespoon black pepper, unground
* 1 tablespoon mustard seeds
* 1 bay leaf
optional ingredients:
* 1-2 garlic cloves sliced in half
* 1 rosemary twig

3. Make a water-salt solution – 1 heaped tbsp salt to 1 cup water. You know it’s salty enough when an egg placed in the solution floats up.

4. Place the olives and the spices in the jars:
* First, put a couple of red peppers and two lemon slices in the bottom.
* Cover with a thick layer of olives.
* Sprinkle some pepper and mustard on top.
* Cover with olives.
* Place bay leaf and additional stuff, if you want to.
* Cove with olives.
Repeat until jar is full.

5. Then, pour on top of the olives the salty solution, all the way to the top.

6. Seal with a layer of olive oil and/or wine vinegar.

7. Let stand in a cool, dark place, for about two weeks.

8. Find out when your friends’ birthdays and anniversaries are, so you can give them olives. Don’t have any olives? Let us know and we’ll send them some!

The Olives: Part Two

What we see here in the picture, folks, is our new “olive cellar”, containing – yes – FIFTEEN jars of olives!

We used different recipes for the olives. About half of them are what we call here zeitim dfukim – olives that were broken so their pickling will be more thorough and take longer. The other half we left whole. The solution is salt water, and the spices include fresh lemons, spicy red peppers, black peppers, mustard seeds, and occasionally garlic and rosemary and red wine vinegar. We still don’t know how they are going to come out, but we’ll keep you posted.

What we see here is a jar with layers of olives, lemons, peppers etc. Here’s the way we did it:

1. We let the olives sit in water for four days, changing the water every day.
2. We washed the jars well (some folks even boil them to sanitize)
3. We cut about one lemon per jar into eight pieces. We peeled some garlic cloves and made a small dent in them with a knife. We prepared bay leaves, black unground pepper, mustard seeds, and rosemary twigs next to the spicy red peppers, lemons and garlic.
4. We placed two or three lemon slices and a hot pepper at the bottom of the jar, then layered with olives.
5. Then, we placed one or two bay leaves (per jar) and some of the other spices, depending on what we wanted the jar to be like. Then put some more olives, and so on and so forth.
6. With some jars, we added about a third of a cup good quality wine vinegar.
7. We placed an egg inside a large pot and filled the pot with water (the egg sank to the bottom). We started adding salt – about 1 tablespoon per cup of water – and mixing it with the water. Whoa! The egg started floating! That meant the solution was ready.
8. We filled the jar with salt water, on top of the olives.
9. We “sealed” the olives with a thin layer of olive oil on top.
10. We closed and sealed the jar, and put it in a dark, cold place (poor olives).
Now we wait.
And here at the blog, it’ll be back to our previously scheduled programs.

The Olives: Part One

My gentle readers have probably noticed how useful olive oil is in our Tel Aviv kitchen; there’s hardly a recipe without it. Olives, and olive oil, are an inseparable part of the Israeli landscape, and often become the symbolic subjects of political struggle over the land.

There is a large, ancient olive tree in my parent’s house, which yields “Syrian olives” of the small and bitter variety – the very best, in my opinion. This year the tree was full of fruit, and we decided to pick it and pickle it. My grandpa tried to dissuade us of the plan. A few years back, he had harvested much of the tree, and ended up pickling twenty enormous jars of olives, thinking he would give them out later as gifts. Hah! After a few weeks, no one in their circle of family and friends could bear the sight of olives, not to mention eating them, and the consumption took, well, quite a while.

But we were not convinced, and early on Saturday we charged the tree and started picking fruit. We spread large sheets under the tree and used two methods. First, we beat the branches – vigorously, but not ferociously – with Chad’s martial art bamboo swords. Much of the fruit fell to the ground while the branches remained intact. Then, we went over the branches and hand-picked what was left.

That took about three hours.

Then, we had to start sorting the olives; there is a certain fly who stings them and leaves a worm inside the pit. So, we looked for tiny imperfections to examine whether they were fly bites. That took four hours and we hadn’t finished by the time the sun set. Gaaaaah! One really learns to appreciate olives after such hard work.

Then, at home, Chad took half the amount of olives and “broke” them. Syrian olives are wonderful when they are cracked; there are various methods to do it, and his enterprising engineer nature led him to use our citrus juicer.

Now, all our olives are happily soaking in water, and will be pickled tomorrow. This is what our bathroom looks like:

What you can’t see in the picture is the large bucket of cracked olives, fermenting.
More updates in the following days!