Makes 2 pounds
The trees went forth on a time to anoint a king over them; and they said unto the olive tree, Reign thou over us.
What would the Mediterranean landscape be like today without the olive? The venerable trees with their gray-green leaves were likely just as plentiful in the biblical era, judging by the number of times (fifty-five) the word '"olive" appears in the Bible. Even in biblical times, the Jordan River Valley and the towns of Lachish and Beth-shemesh were famous for their olives. Many of the cylindrical stone presses used to extract the fruit's flavorful oil are still on display in Israel today. The ancient Hebrews must have eaten cured olives, even though this is not expressly stated in the Bible. We know that the Romans, who conquered Palestine in 63 B.C., employed lye (an alkaline solution obtained by the leeching of wood ashes) to remove the bitter flavor from raw olives. In this recipe, we cure them with brine.
Sea salt or kosher salt
1 egg, washed
2 pounds firm, unblemished purple or black olives, stemmed
Red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 to 3 dill sprigs, finely minced
Minced garlic to taste
Prepare the brine by adding 1 tablespoon of salt to 1 quart of cold water. Use the egg to test the salinity of the solution. When the egg floats to the surface, exposing an area of shell 2.5 centimeters in diameter, the salinity is perfect. Continue adding 1 tablespoon salt and 1 quart of water, retesting with the egg each time, until the right salinity is achieved.
Place the olives and the brine in a glazed, earthenware crock. Use a plate, smaller than the diameter of the crock, to keep the olives submerged below the surface of the brine. Cover the crock with a lid and set it aside in a cool place, for 3 months. Stir the olives once a week. After three months, remove an olive with a slotted spoon. It should be slightly firm to the touch. (In the unlikely event that the olive is soft and/or has a rancid or foul odor, discard it and the remaining olives immediately.) Taste the olive. Most of the bitterness should have disappeared. The color of some olives fades during curing, so don't he concerned if the olives are irregular in color. When submerged in the brine solution and unrefrigerated, the olives keep for up to one year.
With a slotted spoon, transfer the olives you plan to use from the brine to a colander, and rinse well under cold water. Alternatively, soak the cured olives in cold water overnight to reduce excess saltiness. Drain.
Place the olives in a jar or bowl, and add 1 part red wine and 1 part red wine vinegar. Top with a thin layer of olive oil, which acts as a natural seal. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the olives to a serving bowl and mix in the dill and garlic. Serve at room temperature. Refrigerate any uneaten seasoned olives.
His branches shall spread, and his beauty shall be as the olive tree, and his smell as Lebanon.
A Biblical Feast
Foods from the Holy Land
By Kitty Morse
Ten Speed Press
Hand-tinted polaroid transfer photos
Includes bibliography and index
Recipe Reprinted by permission.
This page created December 1998
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