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Pick olives of the Manzanillo, Mission or Sevillano varieties, choosing those that are light green, pale straw colour, or rosy red. Black fruit will get too soft when cured.

Start processing the olives early in the day. The first steps take at least 12 hours and you must check the fruits’ progress frequently.

For every 2 gallons/10 litres of olives you will need –

  • 1 large container (at least 3 gallons/15 litres), such as stoneware crock, glass bowl, or plastic pail. Do not use aluminum or galvanized metal.
  • Heavy-duty rubber gloves
  • A long handled wooden or stainless steel spoon
  • Household lye
  • Salt
  • Muslin cloths to keep fruit covered in the crock.
  • Prepare a solution of 1 cup vinegar and 1 cup water in a bowl. Keep it nearby to wash your skin in case of lye burn.

Sort through the olives, discard any that are bruised and measure fruit. Work with multiples of 1 gallon/5 litre units.

Curing Process

Pour water into the crock, allowing 1 gallon/5 litres water to cover each 2 gallons/10 litres olives.

Using gloves to protect your hands, measure ¼ cup lye for each gallon/5 litres of water.

Slowly pour lye into water, stirring continuously with the long handled spoon until lye dissolves.

Do not put lye in before the water or taste olives at any time during the lye-curing process.

Let stand, covered, where the temperature is 60 – 70 degrees Fahrenheit/15-20 degrees Celsius, stirring every 2-3 hours.

After 6 hours, drain olives and set aside in another container.

In the first container, prepare a fresh lye solution, using the proportions given previously, add fruit and leave to stand for 6 hours.

Olives must remain in the solution until the lye has penetrated to the pit in order to remove bitterness. To check lye penetration, cut 2 or 3 olives of varying sizes in half. Wear gloves.

Penetrated flesh will have turned a dark yellow-green; unpenetrated flesh closer to the pit will be a lighter colour.

This process takes at least 12 hours, but can take as long as 30 hours, depending on the variety, maturity and size of the olives.

If lye penetration is not complete after 12 hours, prepare a fresh lye solution, following preceding directions.

Let olives stand in solution until penetration has occurred. If convenient, stir and check every few hours, but there is no harm in letting olives stand over night without stirring or checking.

If necessary change lye solution again after 12 hours. As soon as most of the olives have been completely penetrated – a few of the largest ones may not be quite finished – you can proceed to the next step.

Rinsing Process

When lye penetration is complete, pour off lye solution and cover olives with fresh, cold water, taking care to keep the fruit submerged with a clean cloth. Cover crock and let stand for at least 6 hours or overnight.

Thereafter, change the water once a day until the colour of the water changes from dark red to light pink (4-7 days).

Brining Process

Prepare a weak brine solution, using ½ cup table salt for each 1 gallon /5 litres water – you’ll need 1 gallon/5 litres water for each 2 gallons/10 litres olives. Stir until salt is dissolved. Slowly pour fruit into brine; cover container and let stand for 12 hours (olives will float initially).

Drain brine; prepare a second solution, using same proportions of salt and water. Let olives stand, covered, for 1 week. You can now eat the olives. If they are too salty, remove them from brine and cover with fresh water for 30 – 60 minutes, then drain and serve.

If you do not plan to use all your olives within 3 days, replace the brine with a holding solution of 1¼ cups table salt for each gallon/5 litres water. You can keep olives for 6 months in the refrigerator, covered; replace the holding solution after 4 months.

To store large quantities of olives at room temperature, place the fruit in a holding solution of 2¼ cups salt for each 1 gallon/5 litres of water water. Store, covered, for up to 6 months.

To reduce saltiness before eating, soak olives overnight or longer in fresh water. Drain and serve; refrigerate leftover drained olives and use within 3 days.

If at any time olives become mushy, mouldy, or malodorous, discard them promptly. Do not taste them.