How to Cure Green Olives

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Brining olives is the oldest way to cure olives, especially green ones. What follows are instructions and troubleshooting on how to cure olives with a brine. There are other ways I’ll get to below.

This post assumes you have access to fresh, green olives off the tree, which are pretty but inedible — they are impossibly astringent. Olive trees can be found all over California, in many parts of Arizona, as well as Australia and, obviously, the Mediterranean, where they are native.

Green olives on the tree
Photo by Hank Shaw

You can buy fresh olives online, and over the years I have provided links, but these companies seem to come and go quickly, so I don’t do that anymore. Just Google “buy fresh olives” around September here in the United States, and I think March in Australia.

The timing is important because you want fresh green olives. And yes, like peppers, all olives start green and ripen to another color, usually black in the case of olives.

Green, unripe olives are firmer and way more astringent than ripe ones. Brining olives when they are green is a great way to cure them, and green olives are the only olives suitable for what, admittedly, is my favorite cure, which a lye cured olive. That process, believe it or not, has been used for 2000 years, and is not as scary as it sounds.

You can brine ripe, black olives, too, just so you know.

My general rhythm is to cruise my local parks in late September or early October; they are full of olive trees, remnants of pre-suburbia orchards around here. On some crisp autumn Saturday, I go picking. Look for pretty olives, with few or no blemishes, and which are not wrinkled.

Tiny dots on an olive are OK, but many may be rotten with olive fly, whose larvae burrow into olives and leave a beige scar where they entered. that telltale scar means there is a visitor lurking within your olive.

An olive infected with an olive fly larva
Photo by Hank Shaw

Another hazard are the dry olives. Trees forced to live by their own wits — away from regularly watered grass — are stressed, and their olives shrivel early. Shriveled olives are usable, but they bruise rapidly and don’t make a clean green olive.

When you get home, separate your olives into small, medium and large olives — it doesn’t matter what variety they are, as I don’t know how to tell the difference. If you don’t have enough large ones to make its own batch, mix them with the mediums.

A bowl of green olives
Photo by Hank Shaw

Unless I am doing the lye cure, brining olives is my preferred method, as it is low-maintenance and results in a super-tangy, salty olive that keeps for more than a year and cries out for beer or ouzo. And I like ouzo. A lot.

Brine-curing is easy, but takes a long time. You make a brine of 1/4 cup kosher salt (I use Diamond Crystal) to 4 cups water, plus 1/2 cup of vinegar: white wine, cider or simple white vinegar. Submerge the olives in this brine and top with cheesecloth or something else to keep them underwater. Do not cut them.

Cover the top of the container loosely (I use large, 1 gallon glass jars) and put the jar in a dark, cool place. That’s it. Check it from time to time — meaning every week or so at first. The brine should darken, and you might get a scum on the top. That’s OK.

What’s going on is that your olives are fermenting; it is the fermentation that breaks down the oleuropein over time. The what? Yeah, oleuropein is the astringent substance in an unripe olive. It needs to go if you are going to eat one. Fermentation is why I never wash my olives before curing — I want those natural yeasts on the outside of the olive to do their magic.

I change my brine every month or two, when it begins to look extra nasty. I don’t re-rinse the olives, during changes, either, because I want the residue to act as a “starter” to get the next batch of brine going.

Green olives after brining olives
Photo by Holly A. Heyser

Keep in mind you will be in for the long haul: Olives picked in October are typically ready to eat in May or June. It’s a lot like making wine.

Add seasonings after the New Year, or even later, otherwise you risk too much spice and not enough olive flavor; this is especially true of chiles. If you find you’ve gone too far, change the brine and don’t add new seasonings, and let it steep for a few weeks. That should calm things down a bit.

Once the olives are finished, there is a certain show-off factor when you pull out a plate of olives you cured yourself. “These are your olives? Wow.” Plus, you can flavor them any way you like, which is a bonus.

If you’re too late for green olives, I really like salt cured black olives, which we all call oil-cured olives since that’s how they are stored. If you want to cure black olives, my method is to oil-cure olives.

cured green olives
4.95 from 20 votes

Brine Cured Green Olives

This is a long-term, brine cure for green olives. It is very traditional and only requires time and a cool place, under 75°F. Know that olives started in fall are not normally ready until spring. Mold is normal. Skim it off.
Course: Appetizer, Snack
Cuisine: Italian
Servings: 20 servings
Author: Hank Shaw
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 0 minutes
Curing Time: 90 days
Total Time: 90 days 15 minutes

Ingredients 

  • 4 pounds fresh green olives
  • 1 cup kosher salt
  • 1 gallon water
  • 1 cup distilled vinegar

Instructions 

  • Assuming you've already checked your olives for worm scars (see headnotes), discard any with too many blemishes. Place the olives in a stoneware crock or large glass jar with a lid carefully. Fresh olives actually do bruise easily.
  • Mix the vinegar, salt and water together. No need to boil, as it will dissolve at room temperature. Pour this over the olives, making sure they are submerged by at least 2 inches. Add more brine in the same ratio if need be.
  • Chances are the olives will float. You need to keep them away from air, so I put a plate over them that is just about the size of the jar or crock. You can also use a plastic bag filled with water to keep the olives away from air. Once the olives are submerged, cover the jar or lid (lightly screw on the top if there is one) and place the container in a cool, dark place. A basement is ideal. You don't want them to ever get beyond 75°F if you can help it, because at higher temperatures the olives can go soft. Since this is a wintertime cure, it should not be a problem. Low temperatures are fine, just don't let them freeze. Let them sit for several months.
  • As time passes, you will see a scum of mold and weirdness form on the top. This is normal. Skim it off once a week and you'll be fine. At some point the brine itself will get pretty icky. I like to change the brine every month or so, but this is not strictly needed. The olives are done when they are no longer bitter, anywhere from 2 to 4 months.
  • Only now do you add other seasonings, like chile peppers, black peppercorns, herbs or citrus peel. Do this in a fresh brine, and let this new, flavorful brine sit 2 weeks before serving. Store the olives in this brine, in a cool place or refrigerator, for up to 2 years. I keep them in quart Mason jars.

Notes

Flavor Additions

  • dried chiles
  • bay leaves or similar aromatic leaves like citrus leaves
  • thyme, sage, oregano, rosemary 
  • allspice, black peppercorns, juniper berries
  • smashed garlic cloves

Nutrition

Calories: 132kcal | Carbohydrates: 3g | Protein: 1g | Fat: 14g | Saturated Fat: 2g | Sodium: 1412mg | Potassium: 38mg | Fiber: 3g | Sugar: 1g | Vitamin A: 357IU | Calcium: 47mg | Iron: 1mg

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

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About Hank Shaw

Hey there. Welcome to Hunter Angler Gardener Cook, the internet’s largest source of recipes and know-how for wild foods. I am a chef, author, and yes, hunter, angler, gardener, forager and cook. Follow me on Instagram and on Facebook.

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387 Comments

  1. I’m so excited to be trying this. They are a couple weeks in and starting to change color s little. I assume this is to be expected. Do you have any pictures to show the progression?

  2. I used this method last fall and just tested my olives, AMAZING! One thing I was wondering was all of my olives (strays green) but ended black. I assumed they oxidized, but should the final product be black? If not, what naught I have done wrong (I didn’t change brine)? If black is normal for this procedure, how do you get them to stay green? Thanks!

  3. Gidday Hank,
    I’ve been using your brine cured olives here in NZ for quite a few years now and never had a failure and everyone likes them.
    It doesn’t seem right that something so easy should turn out so good. Thank you

  4. Hi Hank-my olives have become overripe and soft. I believe that it is difficult to brine these as they become mushy due to the cutting of the olive. May I use this technique for my overripe black olives?

  5. We just moved to Sonoma California from New York City. There are several olive trees on the house we are renting. At this time of year they’re essentially ripe (black). All our mission variety.
    Are there any special things we should do to cure these ripe olives? We don’t have all that many but I really am eager to try and not wait until the fall.
    Thanks so much for the recipe. Next year will harvest the trees when they are green!

  6. I was so very happy to discover your olive curing recipe the other day. My husband and I just picked enough Picual olives for 2.5 gallons, our second harvest from a tree which went from a 3 gallon container–which it had sat in for two year–into the orchard three years ago. Last year we harvest one gallon. And we sliced each and every olive. And we were not looking forward to doing that again this year!

    Can you tell me how, or where, you discovered this method? It seemed like I did a lot of research on curing olives last year, but never came across this way of doing it.

    Kind regards,
    Maggie

    1. Update. After just three months, our small olives from our four-year-old Arbequina tree are done! And they are delicious. The time just flew by. So fast in fact that I never got around to changing the brine. I just kept forgetting. Out of sight, etc. Thanksgiving, Christmas, my husband’s as well as our two son’s birthdays all in those months as well. This morning I finally got it together to check on the olives, terrified about what I’d find. But to my complete surprise and delight, I discovered my two gallons of olives looked beautiful! Just a very small amount of mold on the top of the water-filled ziplocks I used to weight them down under the brine. As someone who previously and very laboriously used to slice each olive before brining, this was a like miracle. Thanks, Hank!

  7. Olives were VERY hard to come by in NYC this year. I bought a case but they looked a week or 2 old and started turning a greenish yellow. Nowhere near black or anything but starting to get a little soft. Still ok for curing and jarring in oil??

    1. Colleen: In my experience, the brine is strong enough, although once temperatures get beyond about 75F, you’ll want them cooler to prevent weird molds, etc.

  8. Hi Hank thank you for this informative post. I picked some olives and read that you should soak them in plain water (no salt or vinegar), changing every 2 days, for 10-14 days before adding salt. I have just reached the 14 day mark and now saw some small white worms in the jar when I poured it out to change the water. Do I have to toss the whole batch or do you think it will be ok if I just add the salt/vinegar brine?

  9. I do a overnight lye cure, (3 T. Per gallon water) rinse for 3 days and finish in the vinegar, salt and water solution. It moves along a little faster and the flavor , color and texture is great. Thanks for posting your method!!

  10. Hi Hank – After reading a bit on brine recipes, some recipes recommend cutting or cracking the olives. Your recipes is not cut them. Is that because once you cut them they need to be refrigerated or they could become soft? I like your recipe, just wanted to understand the pro’s of leaving them whole in tact vs cutting them?

    Thanks,
    James

    1. James: Yes, cutting them is a shortcut, but it makes inferior olives that don’t keep as well. You’ll notice that no store-bought olives are slashed. This method takes longer, but the results are more satisfying. When you slash them, they can oxidize and turn brown easier, too.

  11. Hello dear,

    Nice writing and recipe, wanted to ask.. Some sites recommend bathing olives in hot water to kill germs and disinfect jar (seems important)

    Plus, why add dried chili when there is live peppers? (my mom does it also with dried but why!)

    Should I top the jar all the way up? Or should I leave a bit of air if it expanded

  12. Hi I have already made slits in some of the green olives, can I still go ahead and use them?
    Thanks, great posts really helpful ??

  13. Hi Hank..I have a few old sevillano trees in my yard. (From Corning) Going to try the brine them this year. I got 100lbs from 2 trees.

    Do you ever pit them and stuff with garlic? At what point in the brine? Do you know of an olive pitter that works on these monsters?

    I have food grade 5 gal buckets. Can I just brine them in there? Change the water out periodically. Keep a lid on them, keep them under the brine and under 75 degrees? Then put in jars later? Will that work?

    Thanks

  14. My olives are ready to be taken out of their oil brine. Should I rinse them and store them in a jar of water?

      1. Thank you! This was my try and they are pretty good. Looking forward to the next harvest.
        I hope everyone is well.

  15. Hi Hank – this is my first attempt at curing olives (water method). I want to try different herbs and flavourings in several jars and I’m keen to try some with chilli. Can I use fresh chilli or does it need to be dried? I’m not sure that if it is fresh, it may become ‘sludgy’. Great site, by the way! Regards