Join the ancient and delicious tradition of curing your own olives
If someone were to describe for you a place known for it’s wildflowers, song birds, majestic oaks, green pastures, streams, waterfalls, wild turkeys, mountain lions, deer, happy cows, clucking chickens, rambunctious goats, fluffy sheep, and delicious olive oil and orchard fruits you might think the person was describing something imagined. But at Chaffin Family Orchards we’re known for our innovative and outside of the box approach to farming. Our farm is located in a wonderful little warm belt on 2,000 acres backed up against Table Mountain in Oroville. It’s a hundred year old family farm that was originally started by a group of UC Berkeley and UNR professors doing trials on Mission Olives. It was one of the first large plantings of olives in the state and remains one of the largest old growth orchards still in production in the country.
Olives are one of those old world foods that we all eat but most people are not very familiar with them in any other form than out of a can. Yet they have come to find their way as staples into a wide variety of regional cuisines around the globe. They are also one of the oldest foods known to man but they only grow well in Mediterranean climates. They played a crucial role in California’s early establishment by European settlers. The olives can be made into cured olives for food or into oil which could be used for everything from lamp fuel, machinery lubrication, bathing and botanicals, and of course for cooking.
However these delicious fruits are virtually inedible in their raw state. If you have ever tasted an olive right off the tree you know the intense bitter flavors will coat your palate for hours. They have to be “cured” prior to being consumed which is the process of leaching out the bitter compounds in the fruit. For many families around the globe curing olives at home as a family is still a time honored tradition, often a multigenerational annual event much like a holiday event. But this is not something that gets shared with mainstream America all that often. This is unfortunate as the demand for cured olives is clearly there. All over the country the canned olive section at grocery stores is growing and olive products are dominating gourmet food shows. When we take olives to the farmers market in their uncured state people are baffled as to what they are, guessing that they’re everything from crabapples to pluots. As our culture moves further and further away from the soil and away from where food comes from people become less and less familiar with such things.
Most people don’t realize that nearly all olives that come in a can from the grocery store started out as green olives. So the soft black olives that you put on the tips of your fingers as a child, or see sliced up on pizza, where originally green olives that after being cured were force oxidized turning them black. Green olives by definition are mature but unripe olives. The green olives eventually ripen getting soft and turning purple and then all the way black. Most curing techniques however soften the fruit as well so if you don’t start out with firm fruit you’ll end up with mush at the end. Green olives are extremely labor intensive to pick. Because they’re not all the way ripe they don’t want to fall off the tree. There is no mechanical method that works effectively for picking green olives so instead each piece of fruit is picked by hand off the tree.
Once you have your olives you want to start the curing process as soon as possible. The commercial olive canning industry uses a solution of lye to leach out the bitter compounds in the olives and to soften the fruit. This process happens very quickly. Usually you only leave the fruit in lye solution for 12-24 hours. However we try to encourage people to cure their olives without using lye which is a toxic chemical that is used in many industrial applications and is the primary ingredient in most pour-in drain cleaners. It’s a caustic substance that destroys most nutrients and can cause severe burns if it comes in contact with skin.
Being that olives have been around for millennia as a staple food source, there are most definitely other ways to cure without lye; they’ve just become somewhat forgotten in our modern fast food society. Some trees in the Middle East are literally thousands of years old. For more information on how to cure without using lye contact Don Landis email@example.com . Don is an expert on curing without lye and has a packet of recipes he can send you. We recently hosted Don in Chico where he taught an olive curing workshop, to see the article that ran in the paper with some of his tips and recipes go here http://www.chicoer.com/ci_16139709?IADID=Search-www.chicoer.com-www.chicoer.com . Also one of the most useful resources for home curing is the UC publication on pickling olives which includes many no-lye techniques http://www.ucanr.org/freepubs/docs/8267.pdf . Just don’t get too hung up on which varieties and sizes it lists for each recipe. The Barouni olives, which we will have available through the middle to end of October, come from our 50 year old groves and produce a really nice large green olive that will work well for any of the liquid curing techniques. In fact this orchard was planted nearly a half century ago specifically to serve the needs of buyers who planned on curing at home. For dry salt curing we recommend Mission Olives which we’ll have later in the season around November. So give it a shot. Curing olives is a lot of fun; it’s a great project to do as a whole family and can become an annual family tradition. The finished product is to die for and it’s a great way to impress your friends.
If you’d like to make order and have the olives shipped to you, go to our website http://www.chaffinfamilyorchards.com/store/results.php
Or to order for local pickup at the farm or one of our local farmers markets call us at 530-533-1676
If you’d like more resources for recipes and the history of olives be sure to check out the following links: