Food goals: harvest local olives

Last summer I made it a goal to harvest and prepare my own olives. And before I knew it, that’s just what I was doing. Zero Waste olives coming right up. 

In February a few of us stayed down the coast in an Airbnb owned by an eccentric and charming fellow named Sveti – a real talker. Everything he told me was fascinating, including stories of rampant food fraud in the olive and olive oil industries. Long story short, buy Australian olive oil! It’s some of the best in the world. Sveti should know, he’s an olive estate owner who wins foodie awards for his wares. I came away from the conversation with a huge jar full of delicious olives and a strong desire to harvest my own. I had an open invitation to join for the fall pickings at the estate near the NSW/ Victorian border.

Turns out I didn’t have travel that far to get mine. They grow semi wild all over the Eastern Suburbs. Some trees were probably intentionally planted, but most are likely the result of birds eating the fruit and depositing the seeds at random. Which means lots of trees are growing on verges.

With Australia’s many climactic zones, olives ripen at different times – the farther north, the earlier. Around Sydney, this turned out to be late March. I started to notice the fruit had turned black and the tree branches had become heavy. They were falling on the ground. I collected nearly 1.5 kilos.

Brining olives is a wonderfully low tech, non-refrigerated process. Everyone seems to have a different method, and some do a good job make it sound overly complex. At the end of the day, you’re using salt to draw out the bitterness from the raw fruit. Call me lazy, but I like simplicity and decided on this Milkwood method where you slit each olive to allow the brine to permeate.

I made a strong brine, 20% salt. I used pink Himalayan salt for this, but in future would go with a local sea salt.

Then I poured the brine over the olives to cover. I used a cabbage leaf to submerge the olives completely, where they sat for the next few months.

You can start tasting at any point after a month or so to see how the flavour is developing and the bitterness subsiding. Once they’re to taste, drain and transfer the olives to a lower brine concentration and add flavourings like lemon, bay leaf and chili peppers.

The other day I made tapenade with my free, foraged, local and Zero Waste olives. Next year I’ll do it all again. Food goal: accomplished.