Great in pasta, on their own or in a dry martini, olives are one of life’s simple pleasures. Around this time of year, they start appearing in groves around Australia, ready to pick. While the fruit you see on the trees looks pretty, if you’ve ever tried to eat a freshly picked olive you’ll know that there are a few things you need to do to before they’re edible. On a misty winter morning, we snuck down to McIvor Estate in country Victoria for a private lesson.
Cynthia and Gary Harbor bought the property 15 years ago. Paying homage to Cynthia’s Italian heritage, they divided the land to grow two very Italian products – grapes and olives. They have over 200 olives trees in five different varieties and a wealth of experience when it comes to growing and preserving these little fruits – knowledge they are more than happy to share.
We wander out to the groves with Gary to learn the difference between a nevadillo blanco and kalamata. While a very large and efficient machine is now used to harvest the McIvor olives, Gary lets us pick a few of our own to get an idea of how it used to be done.
After collecting our bounty we head back to the cellar door where Cynthia shows us how to prepare the olives using a simple and effective recipe.
Here are two of the Harbors’ recipes. The first is for salted olives – “the lollies of the olive world” according to Cynthia – and the second is for quick olives, for those impatient olive lovers among us.
Pick olives when they are black. Wash thoroughly and discard bruised and blemished olives and any leaf matter.
Place washed olives in a large colander and encrust with coarse salt. Ensure that olives are completely covered under a good 1cm of salt. Place a large bowl under colander to catch drips.
Cover the colander and olives with a light cloth and store in a cool dry storage area away from sunlight. Stir and add salt progressively over a four to six week period, making sure to clean and discard any drips from bowl daily.
You should begin to taste the olives after four weeks. When they are no longer bitter, wash off the salt and put in a large container or basket in a single layer to dry. On sunny days you can put them outside to dry.
After one or two weeks, their skin should be quite wrinkly and they’ll taste delicious. Now they are ready to eat or to be stored in jars.
These olives will last for quite a while, if you can keep your hands off them.
Brine Solution (100g salt to each litre of water)
Wild fennel, lemon peel, garlic
Place olives in an airtight jar and fill with brine solution. Make sure you fill the jar all the way to the top to avoid olives going mouldy.
Soak olives for two to three days in brine solution.
Rinse olives thoroughly and score each with a knife or split with a meat mallet.
Add wild fennel, lemon peel and garlic to boiling water, ensuring there is enough water to just cover olives. For each kilogram of olives add 1 teaspoon of salt. Boil for 5 minutes.
Drain and add any fresh flavours to absorb. Taste and drizzle oil over olives and any other fresh condiments.
Eat within 10 to 14 days.
These olives will still be a bit tart.