Friday, November 26, 2010

Heirloom Foods: The Complete Guide to Making Calabrian Olives

My home-cured Calabrian-style olives on the day I jarred them, Nov. 2010.
Here it is at long last, The Complete Guide to Making Calabrian Olives... at least as far as I understand it.  This recipe came to me in parts via Louis Marchesano and Lisa Anne Auerbach.  I hope I've done it justice.  And I hope they'll let me know if I haven't.  Along the way, they made me a series of great videos, which is ESD's first video tutorial.  Thanks again, Lisa and Louis, for all the instruction.  I hope the Calabrian olive-making process will live on through our readers!

Step 1:  Smash the olives to loosen the pit.

Step 2:  Put the smashed olives in a bowl and cover them with water for at least 2 hours or up to 24 hours.  Soaking in water will loosen the pit from the olive and you will be able to remove it much more easily. 

Lisa's stained hands after taking the pits out of a lot of olives.
Step 3:  Take out the pit.  Pretty self-explanatory, although it does take a while.  I learned that it's best to do this standing up with the containers at a comfortable height.  Otherwise your back will be killing you by the time you finish.  And of course, your hands will be stained no matter what you do!  Watch the video for proper technique.

Step 4:  After taking out the pit, put the olives in a large container and cover with water.  Change the water twice a day for about a week.  The olives will start to turn brown and so will the water you pour off of them.  According to Lisa you need to check to see if they're ready.  She says, "Taste them, the bitterness should be largely gone, but if there is a bit of bitterness it's ok. They should not get mushy though so don't leave them in the water for too long... it is a delicate balance."  (I think I screwed this part up.  At first I wasn't changing the water twice a day.  And then I think I might have left them in the water a little too long.  They weren't mushy and they weren't bitter, but they weren't very flavorful either.  Live and learn.)

Step 5:  Press the water out of the olives.  Lisa and Louis broke down and bought a food press (really an apple cider press) to deal with their enormous quantity of olives.  I did it the old-fashioned way... with a ricer.  It's important to get as much water out of the olives as you can.  I was afraid of crushing the olives at first, but after a while I realized that I could use every bit of strength I had, and the olives still kept their shape.

My jarring process.
Step 6:  Put the olives in jars.  Put all the olives you can squeeze into a clean, dry jar.  Add a clove of garlic, cut into 2 or 3 pieces.  Add  dried oregano, salt, and pepper to taste.  Dried crushed chili flakes or Calabrian peppers are also a nice addition if you like your olives spicy.  When I jarred my olives, I mixed the olives, oregano, garlic, salt and pepper in a bowl with a bit of olive oil and poured it into a jar.  I packed the mixture down into the jar several times as I went along.  Lisa suggested that I overpack the jars, which I did.  Finally, add several inches of additional olive oil to the jar.  

Step 7:  Let the jars it out for 24 hours to absorb the flavors.  Put the jars into the refrigerator for storage.  When you want to eat your olives, take them out of the refrigerator and let sit at room temperature for an hour before serving.  The olive oil from the bottom of the jar is especially good eaten on a chunk of torn (not cut!) bread.  Enjoy!


  1. Waiting to hear the review after tasting! A long process, but sounds like fun. And, hey, when you first try something new, if you're anything like me and the Swedish food I'm cooking for the first time, it's always a learning process. I have pictures of your sister joining in the pressed Sylta recipe, so when I have the chance, I'll email one to you!

  2. I hate to admit it, but they were a little bland when I tried them before adding all the spices. Maybe that's normal. I decided to let them "fester" for a few weeks and try again. I'll let you know. Can't wait to see the photo of Sylta-making!