We have ten olive trees on our property that I have planted over the past five years. The oldest of which is a California Mission tree with a mixed variety of Italian, French, and Spanish trees for the rest. Last year, we harvested around 2 gallons of fruit which we decided to use a dry salt cure on. They were quite good and made the wrinkled black and leathery style. This year, however, we decided to use a lye cure for green ripe olives as described by local farmer Bill Spencer in the book California Rancho Cooking.
We started out by harvesting the olives. Luckily the cat was there with us to watch for ground squirrels.
We ended up with over 3 gallons of fruit this year.
The next step was to find the lye. I figured the local hardware store would know. So we hit Hewitt's in Templeton. I asked about Lye for olives and they sent me back to the plumbing section. It was funny that he said hardly anyone buys it for plumbing anymore. But they sell a lot of it for olive curing.
Using gloves as recommended, I mixed the lye with water and soaked the olives for two days. Draining, rinsing, and making a new batch once. I cut into an olive and could see the lye had soaked in the recommended amount. After that for the next seven days, I soaked them in water with a plate holding them submerged. I drained them every day and the water turned from muddy to a light tea color. Then I created a brine with kosher salt and soaked the olives one more week, draining every 3 days. At the two week point, I tried a few and they tasted a bit salty, but really good.
We then rinsed them all and packed them in water (figuring it would extract the salt and hit the right level). We also added herbs to about half of the jars. I think they turned out great. We have had them over the past few weeks and they keep getting better. As you can see, we have no shortage. So don't be surprised if we give you some olives if you run into us.
Next time I am going to follow our friend Ciro's advise and don't bother with the lye, and just to a brine cure though. Of course we heard this from him the day after our lye soak finished. But it was a great experience. Thanks Bill for the inspriration.