Tom Parkinson's monthly column, introducing the diverse range of flora and fauna on show at Sanctuary Lakes.

On Sunday 12th April, over 68 of Sanctuary Lakes neighbours gathered on the Southern Boulevard Beach to watch and hear our maestro of the Olive and long-time resident Rob Merola discuss the various arts of curing, pickling and marinating the Olive.

Prior to the event Greg Fryer and Tom Parkinson had picked samples of the varied varieties of Olive, from the hundred plus Olive trees growing on the estate. Thereby giving an understanding of the common types of olive locally available.

Discussion moved to the numerous ways of curing olives ranging from pure water, through the brines and finally to simply salt. Below are recipes of some of the methods that can be used.

Finally, Maestro Merola demonstrated the art of marination for Olive storage. Rob had generously bought along some of his own marination’s for tasting. This gave a great and pleasurable finale to the event. Sanctuary Lakes Residents would like to thank Rob Merola for his time and knowledge, giving all the attendees a magnificent afternoon. As one resident said “I never realised how basically simple and yet enjoyable curing and marinating olives, could be.”

If you weren't able to make the event below are 4 recipes: handed out on the day.

  1. Olives in brine
    A very simple brine pickling method for either black or green olives is as follows.
    Wash olives and place them in a tub or container where they can be covered in water.
    Measure the quantity of water required to cover the olives as this gives you an estimate of how much brine you need to make. For example, it there’s 5L of water, it may pay to make 6L of brine.
    The salt to water ratio is easy, 1 litre water to 100 grams of salt, therefore 6L water to 600 grams salt etc.
    You can bring water to boil if you wish to ensure salt is thoroughly dissolved into water, allow cooling then filling jars with olives and pouring in brine till they are totally covered.
    If you like an olive with a vinegar twist, you can also add 20-30ml of vinegar per litre to the brine.
    Don’t be scared to experiment! Add some herbs, garlic cloves, whole chilli etc. to some smaller jars and see what the results are. It’s a great fun way to come up with your own blend and a great dinner table talking point! You can continue to perfect this going forward. The curing (or sweetening) period required depends on the size of the olives, anywhere from 2-6 months! The best way to test is the taste test, smaller olives will pickle and sweeten within 2-3 months, jumbo Kalamata will take 5-6 months. Simply open a jar and bite into one. Be careful as they will be VERY bitter if tried too early so be prepared for a few minutes of very sour taste in your mouth!
  1. Just Water:
    This is the simplest but requires the most patience and can only be used with green olives.  Green olives are actually just immature olives (like green tomatoes are immature tomatoes) and they are naturally pretty mild, so using water alone is sufficient to cure them. First thoroughly wash your olives, then crack them. You can literally “crack them” by wrapping the Olives in cloth and hitting them gently with a rolling pin or you can cut each one around lengthwise with a knife. Cutting is time consuming but it does the job a little better. Place the olives in a plastic bin and cover with cold water. Use a food-grade plastic bin with a lid. Completely cover all of the olives with water, making sure none are poking out. You may need to weigh them down with something to keep them from floating above the surface of the water. Place the bin's cover tightly over the olives and put the container in a cool, dark place. Make sure you change the water with fresh, cold water at least once a day. Don't forget, bacteria could build up in the water and taint the olives. Simply strain the olives through a colander, wash the bin, replace the olives and fill the bin back up with fresh cold water. After one week of changing the water daily, taste an olive to see if it is as you like it. If it is, the olives are ready; if not try a few more days (changing the water daily) before moving on. When you are happy with the taste, prepare a mixture of pickling salt, water and vinegar. This will preserve the olives and give them a delicious pickled taste. To make the brine, mix the following (makes enough for 2 kilos of olives): 1 litre cool water, a third of a cup of pickling salt and half a cup of white wine vinegar. Pour the Brine and the Olives into your storage container filling to the very top and make sure it is airtight. Prior to sealing, you may wish to add lemon peel, rosemary sprigs, roasted garlic, or black pepper to flavour the brine. Seal then store in a refrigerator, good for at least 12 months.
  1. Jumbo Kalamata Olives.
    Green jumbo Kalamata olives can be prepared in two ways. Both are brine, but one then transfers to olive oil storing after pickling while the other remains in the brine. The first involves cutting the olive down to the pip with a sharp knife but making an incision at opposite ends of each other. Hint, DO NOT use a serrated knife as this will bruise the olive and it will look brown when pickling due to the jagged edge of the blade. It won’t hurt the flavour but visually not appealing. Place cut olives into a large tub suitable for the quantity you have and to allow water to be changed every day. Cover olives adequately and change this water every day for 7 days. The brine for this method is an old fashioned one. 10% salt to water ratio. Place cut olives into large sealable jars and cover with brine. You can use a piece of cotton material at top of jar to ensure all are below water. These need to sit for up to 4 weeks. I usually will give a taste test after 3 and see if they are still bitter. If they are, leave a few more days, testing each time. When you feel they are sweetened, you need to prepare for the next step. It’s helpful to measure the brine (or remember the quantity used) as you drain the jars and note this down. Prepare the equivalent volume (50/50) of water and Malt Vinegar, mixing together to form your vinegar twist solution. Refill jars with this and leave for 48 hours (2 days) Drain this solution and fill with olive oil, or vegetable oil, sunflower etc. and they will keep for years! Olive oil is the best in my opinion taste wise and the only one I ever use. Keep stored in a cool place and remove from jar as required to serve. The alternative method is to use the olives whole. Once washed, place them straight into large jars and fill with brine. You can add at the bottom of the jar a whole lemon, a few cloves of garlic and a chilli if so desired, or even some wild fennel seeds. Again, experiment with your favourite flavours, you’ll be surprised at the results! As the olives are large and uncut, they will take around 5 months or so to be ready to eat, but believe me it’s worth the wait, your patience will be rewarded with great tasting olives that will be talk of the table They can stay in the brine for at least 2 years remaining firm and delicious. The cut ones are a little time consuming to prepare but results are worth the efforts!
  2. Simply Salt:
    Get a 2 kg plastic bucket and drill as many small holes (5mm) as you like in the lid and the base. Put a layer of Kalamata or Black olives fully covering the bottom of the bucket. Throw in a handful of cooking salt over top of this layer. Continue olive then salt layer to the top of the bucket or until you run out of olives. Put on lid and leave for 24 hours. Turn bucket over. Leave for another 24 hours and turn bucket over again. Repeat this daily until the 5th day. Open bucket and taste an olive to check bitterness. Once again if olives are still too bitter for your taste - continue. If salt seems to have dissolved add a few handfuls of rock salt on top of olives. Continue turning bucket and checking on bitterness. Usually olives have reached their optimum taste after 10 to 14 days. Keep adding salt if salt has dissolved. NOTE: olive juice will seep out over this time so make sure the bucket has drainage beneath. Once olives are to your taste they will look slightly wrinkled, wash thoroughly in fresh cold water until all salt is removed. Store in either Brine as above or a 50:50 mix of vinegar and olive oil plus of course your favourite herbs.