Monday, October 31, 2011

Curing olives: harvest

I have been curing olives since I was six years old, when we moved into my grandfather’s house. One of my first memories from that time is when his cousin sent him 60 lbs of Manzanilla olives from his hometown. My grandfather, who was in his seventies at the time and had moved to Seville as a teenager, still remembered many of these country things. I accompanied him on walks around the neighborhood, looking for ingredients for the olives in abandoned lots. Some years later, after my grandfather's passing, I remember walking past those same lots, the herbs and plants long gone and replaced by trash and junky cars. It was sad to see how the urban makeup of my neighborhood changed in just a few years.

You cannot eat olives straight from the tree. They are so bitter you’ll want to scrub the inside of your mouth with a brillo pad. That bitterness needs to be leached out first. Once that’s done, you brine and season them. It is amazing how something that originally was so unpleasant ends up being so delicious.

We have a young olive tree in front of our house. This year was not a good one. We had a wet spring and a cool summer. During bloom, all that rain knocked off a whole lot of flowers. My crop was this little, barely two cups’ worth.

There are some old olive trees at the community college near our house. We drove by on Sunday to see if we could perhaps supplement our crop. Sadly, the trees were completely bare: not a single olive on them. Olive trees are notorious for their alternate bearing tendency. Some years they are loaded, some years there’s nothing. Last year these trees were so full we were able to fill a three-gallon bucket easily.

So my 2011 harvest is what it is. I have a handful of pockmarked, scarred olives. They are not stellar, by any means. I’m going to cure them anyway. Stay tuned.


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