Curing Olives: Drying (the lazy way)

Black ripe olives on olive tree Tuscany Italy curing

Ripe olives on the trees in spring

Due to bureaucratic delays, we started harvesting our olives very late last year and were unable to complete the harvest before the oil presses closed in January. So in contrast to most of the neighbouring olive groves, when spring arrived we still had several terraces of trees dripping in fruit. While they’re no longer good for pressing, the black olives still on the trees in spring are perfect for curing and eating.

If (like me) you’ve ever tried to eat an olive straight from the tree, you’ll know that a fresh olive is bitter and inedible. Curing is essential to leach the acrid glucosides from the fruit. There are various ways of doing this, including using salt, lye/caustic soda, brine or drying, and the most suitable method depends both on the ripeness of the fruit and the type of olive. We have been experimenting with a few methods – drying (detailed here), using lye, and salt.

In Tuscany olives are generally grown for oil, rather than as table olives, so cultivars are selected with this in mind (although Leccino olives are grown commercially as table olives elsewhere). Nonetheless, our small, black and fully ripe olives make for delicious, highly-flavoured table olives – perfect for antipasto. We also like to have a jar on-hand for cooking – a handful added to a stew, or sprinkled (along with a glass over wine) over some roasting meat, add a tangy richness.

This is a ridiculously easy method which barely deserves the label ‘recipe’. It is good for lazy/ impatient types, as the olives are ready to eat in hours. They only keep for a couple of weeks though, so this method is more suitable for small batches.

home dried olives tuscany italy cured

Dried olives dressed with EVOO, orange zest and rosemary

Dried Olives

Fresh olives
Extra-virgin olive oil
Flavouring e.g. herbs, garlic, citrus zest, chilli flakes

Wash and dry the olives thoroughly. Spread them on baking trays in a single layer and bake them in the oven at a low temperature (approximately 50 degrees celsius) until they are shrivelled (but not totally dried up). This could take anything from 2 – 6 hours.

oven dried cured olives Tuscny Italy recipe

The shrivelled olives are removed from the oven

Once they have cooled, dress the olives in olive oil and your choice of flavourings (herbs such as rosemary, bay, thyme or oregano, citrus zest, garlic, chilli flakes). The olives can be eaten immediately but are even better if left to marinade for a few days, with the bonus that the flavoured oil makes a delicious salad dressing or dipping sauce.

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12 responses to “Curing Olives: Drying (the lazy way)

    • I don’t see why it wouldn’t work with different types, although I’ve been told that the dehydrating method is best for olives which are fully black and ripe. You could also use a dehydrator or leave them in the sun, instead of the oven. I have been salt-curing some too but it’s definitely more of a pain to do!

  1. This is so interesting. I have never had an opportunity to buy fresh olives where I live. Choices here include olives in a jar or olive oil. We do have a olive farm about 60 miles away. They make olive oil only. Really enjoying your blog. I love reading about all the nature you are surrounded by, and how you are using olives and flowers as food.

  2. Hi,i have a wild olive tree but the olives are very small and black at the moment. I live in south australia. If i cut back the tree will they grow bigger olives?

    • I’m afraid I don’t know much about wild olive varieties but I think the fruits are normally small. Pruning the trees encourages new growth but the olives would probably be the same size.

    • Hi, I am aware of the wild olives tree which is found in South Africa. The fruit is always very small – maybe a natural development in hot climates. I have been told that they are not suitable for any type of human consumption. So I wouldn’t be keen to give it a try. Sue, from BLUE MOUNTAIN OLIVES, Eastern Cape Karoo, South Africa.

  3. If you oven-dried a LOT of olives could you then store them (freezer or cupboard) until you’re ready to marinate them?

    • Hmmm…. I think the cupboard would be a problem as they’d go off, and I’ve never thought about freezing olives! I guess you could try freezing them but not sure if it would affect the texture. When we want to do a big batch which will last a long time we usually salt-cure them (post coming soon…).

  4. Wow what an interesting discussion. I live in Cape Town and have 2 olive trees in my garden and this year I have picked over 20 kgs of black mission olives! Last year I salt cured them and bottled them with herbs, chillies, garlic etc and they were delicious. The process is now well under way for my crop for 2014! Buckets all over the kitchen!!!!!

  5. could you soak in brine until the bitterness fades then dry in oven/humidifier? with garlic or citrus?

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