Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Olive Harvest

One of the really wonderful things about living in the Middle East is olives. You can eat them at any meal and anytime in between. A man of humble means told Dear Husband that "olives make a meal", and that is true, especially when a meal might otherwise be bread and tea.

And, one of the wonderful things about living in Mafraq is our yard, in which grow five mature olive trees that produce good olives. Dear Husband, due to his great success last year of curing two gallons of olives, both green and black, has received the moniker "Abu Zaytoon" (Father of Olives). Even with rationing, we ran out of his delicious olives by June, so this year we begged him to prepare more, much more, than last year.

A couple local workers picked our olives one day last week, setting aside the best for curing. Dear Husband will have the rest pressed for oil. The first step is measuring--how many jars would we need to buy this year?

Next comes the sorting: black olives, large green olives with a little color, and smaller green olives. 

The next step is the most time consuming: slicing three small slits in each olive. This process took Dear Husband about three evenings. Note the (new) coal/wood stove in the corner of our sun porch. We are officially country folk.

Dear Husband received all his curing instruction and advice from one of the workers who picked our olives. Jordanians have varying opinions on the best way to cure olives, but since this worker's advice yielded such good results last year, Dear Husband is following his instructions again this year. He used two different methods to cure this year's harvest: one method for the black olives and another for the green.

After slitting the black olives, Dear Husband salted them and put them in the sun, such as it is in early December. The salting was repeated for four days. After four days, he soaked the olives in water for about an hour to extract much of the salt, and packed them in jars with olive oil. The salting draws the bitterness out of the olives so it is possible to eat them now, though they will mellow further as they soak in the olive oil.


After the green olives are slit, they are soaked in water, which Dear Husband changed daily, for three days.

The  green olives are now ready to be placed in jars of brine. Exactly how much salt do you put in the water for a good brine? The traditional measure: keep adding salt until an egg floats. That is 1/2 cup to 2 liters of water, but measuring cups are an American convention, so the egg float method is really best.

Dear husband also adds 1/4 cup white vinegar. Lemons, which Dear Husband plans to add a week into the brining process, can also be added at this point, as can hot peppers. The olives will be ready for eating in about five to six weeks.

The jars of olives take a proud sentinel position on our kitchen pantry shelf o'plenty. Dear Husband thought me a little silly when I told him that one of the satisfactions of preserving food is looking at the jars of pretty food stored up for the future enjoyment. I have since seen him standing back and admiring the jars of olives he prepared. The patient waiting begins.

Yislam 'idayk,  Ya Abu Zaytoon! (God's peace on your hands, O Father of Olives)

Update: The olives have been pressed and the yield is considered low this year. A good oil yield is 16 % of the raw olive weight and this year the yield was 13%, so our 66 kilograms of olives yielded just over nine kilograms of oil. (1 kilogram = 2.21 pounds)


A Circle of Quiet said...

Sigh....your own olive oil. It sounds heavenly. I am very impressed with your husband! Good work.


Quotidian Life said...

Yes, he impresses me too : )

Cindy Marsch said...

Thanks so much for sharing--this was lovely! And I'm jealous, especially after reading on FB about a local child picking olives out of the olive bar at the local grocery and then spitting the ones he didn't like back into the containers on display. Ewww.

I've always thought tree crops the most civilized of agriculture, ever since I swooned over a pecan grove in Georgia on a drive one day, and then renewed my longing on drives through Northern California orchards and groves through the course of the seasons--almonds, walnuts, pears, apples, cherries, nectarines, peaches . . .


Peter Gerhardt said...

Wow! That is so interesting. I have always wanted an olive tree in our orchard...I think I will have to "press" for one to plant this winter! What an interesting culture to be a part of. ~Pam

Anonymous said...

Hi. Where did you get that stove pictured above? And, are you happy with it? We are moving out of Amman to the country ourselves, and are trying to find one that is suitable.

Quotidian Life said...

My husband bought it in downtown Mafraq, though I think you can find one in Amman. It works well, after some modifications that my husband made to it, but it just heats our sun porch. You'd need something bigger if you'll be trying to heat a larger area. There are some better/more expensive stoves in the market. I think this one cost about JD 80.

Patricia said...

Wow, really enjoyed reading this. I, too, enjoy standing back and admiring the results of my labor, whether out in the garden on in the pantry.

Patricia said...

Wow, really enjoyed reading this. I, too, enjoy standing back and admiring the results of my labor, whether out in the garden on in the pantry.