It is rather amusing to tease an olive virgin that the fruit on the tree is just simply divine, and watch them wince in horror as the hard purple black fruit hits their taste buds. An olive from the tree is simply inedible with the most incredibly vile taste. Take some olives from the tree, give it forty days and some loving attention, and it turns into an addictive taste.
It is an intriguing thought as to how the discovery first took place that inedible fruit combined with forty days would then become edible. It raises the possibility of some hunger stricken ancient peasant experimenting madly every day in his quest for food.
In Messinia, the eating olives ripen earlier than the other olives which are destined to become oil. The Kalamata black olives are famous the world over for their exceptional quality and taste, yet there’s always enough held back from those destined for export, to fill the locals jars.
Tradition shows that the time honored way to pickle olives is to soak them for forty days and nights in a solution of salt water, changed daily. No one actually spends that long doing this these days, as forty days turned out to be a bit of a myth, though it always does turn up as a handy number in folklore. Salting anchovies for forty days was another traditional notion.
The salt and water part remains traditional and olives are duly picked, cracked and soaked in large containers of salt and water with the solution being changed every two days or so. As with any other method of dealing with potential food the best test is the taste test. Every now and again as the water is changed, have a taste and see how the olives are coming along.
A local fisherman actually prepares the best olives I’ve ever tasted. As he lives directly opposite the sea, he eliminates the initial soaking in salt water in jars part, and instead fills a net up with olives and weights it down where the tides come in. No need to continually change the water as it washes back and forth with the tides. The net protects the olives from the tiny crabs which lurk in the area and may otherwise sneak into the pickled olive jar.
When he’s left them in the sea for a number of days they are washed and put into jars and topped up with water and olive oil, then left to steep some more. The taste test is done and the enticingly bitter flavor has promise. This system evolved out of laziness by the fisherman but it works a treat and his secret is safe with me.
There is nothing worse than soft and soggy olives, so the trick is to seal them just as they have the right texture. Toss the water away and replace it with vinegar and olive oil. They can be eaten immediately or stored in a cool dark place.
Many things can be added to an olive as it goes into the jar, depending on ones taste. The local olives are often stuffed with red chili peppers, segments of bitter lemon: even herbs can be added to the mix. Lemons added in create an extra piquancy.
The absolutely best way to pickle olives is to find a friendly fisherman who follows the soaking in the sea method, and happens to hate olives himself. He’ll only need to keep a couple of jars himself in case he lures someone in for coffee. Otherwise he’ll likely give the rest away to friends who show an interest in his preparations. Pickling olives is not a job done between coffees, and is time consuming. The best labor saving device to use to have your olives pickled at their finest is a handy local fisherman.