Ron and I cure olives every year – but always green ones. We have the technique down pat – and have even found a convenient shortcut for cracking the olives, in a handy little machine at the El Babour Mill in Nazareth (see my post from Oct. 9).
But I love black olives too and this year, when our Suri olive tree was left with the loveliest, plumpest black olives still on it, I decided to give curing them a try. I set my sights modestly – to pick a single bucket for starters. Picking olives is one of my most enjoyable tasks and on that particular day, the sky was hazy and the light was opaque on the silvery leaves and powdery coating on each olive, which rubbed off at my touch. In less than an hour, the bucket was full of choice, midnight purple fruit.
After I finished picking, I went to the nearby Bedouin village and bought one of those expansive round metal trays that are standard equipment in any Arab kitchen. I also purchased a container of sea salt – an indulgence for sure, but for my first batch of black olives, I wanted only the best. I would use the technique I’d seen Um Malek use in Kfar Manda – just letting the olives cure with the help of salt and the sun.
Back home, I rinsed my olives, spread them out on the tray and patiently sorted through them. Then I covered them with a thick layer of salt and put them out in the sun. Now, three weeks later, the olives have excreted their bitter liquids and are wrinkled but still soft. Tentatively, I tasted one. Delicious! This method of curing olives may seem foolproof, but I am still amazed and delighted by the results.
While I was scooping up the olives from the tray to put them into jars, a bee flew around, alighting on the olives and crawling over their salty crust. It seemed counter-intuitive to me – wouldn’t a bee that favors sweetness reject salt? But if even a bee was attracted to my olives, then they really must be good!