Lye is used for many purposes. It is used in soaps, as a drain cleaner, and is sometimes used in food processing. In olive curing it works to break down some of the olives cell structure (softening the olive) and neutralize the alkaloid, which causes bitterness. You should take the utmost care when using Lye to process food. Be sure to wear gloves, and wash Lye from hands or any food products thoroughly. If not handled properly Lye can be poisonous.
This point scared me the first time I used Lye for curing. However I discovered Lye has a potent smell & taste. When olives have been properly rinsed you will notice there is no Lye smell or taste. It is easily detectable. When the olives are done you will have no doubt if Lye remains or not.
I have However posted a few independent opinions regarding the use of Lye in Olive Curing
The 'Red Devil Lye' is what I've used for many years. My mother got me started lye curing olives about 50 years ago. I obtained an Olive curing pamphlet from UC Davis extension service about 30 years ago & it has the same lye formula as she used.
From: Carol (the canner) Simand
Personally, I would make the salt/oil cured Greek-style olives to avoid the whole lye hazard problem. They're easier to make, but not what most people are used to. Here's what I know about lye for what it's worth: The lye used for drain openers has nitrates and other additives so you'll want to avoid that kind. I would ask at a drug store. It may be called sodium hydroxide or caustic soda. If they can't get it for you, try searching for a soap making forum or supplier, they use lye too.
Hope this doesn't gross anyone out, but olives are 'cured' by the growth of bacteria (also known as fermentation)- the same way sauerkraut and old-fashioned pickles are made. So the two suggested recipes sound good to me. The high salt used makes a good environment for the good bacteria (which are in the air) while making an unfriendly environment for disease-causing bacteria. The taste of the cured olives is partly dependent on little bits of smell and flavor compounds made by the bacteria. So olives cured the old-fashioned way may have slightly different flavors depending on where they're made. Sort of like wine. So soaking olives in lye (which really just partially breaks down the cell structure) is a sin as far as I'm concerned - think about the tasteless canned 'black' olives (which are really green olives soaked in lye), and you'll know what I mean.
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You can cure olives at nearly any stage, but the really tiny green ones aren't really worth it. We sell raw green olives that grow from medium to super large. Grown with tender loving care in the sunny Central Valley area of California, USA. The difference between green and black olives are their ripeness and method of preparation. If interested in purchasing some of our raw olives visit our Raw Olive Order Page. You've got several choices, depending on your curiosity and fanaticism. Below are some tried and true methods and some great techniques suggested by our friends and readers. If you have a favorite curing method we want to hear from you! Please email us at AllLoveOlives@yahoo.com We will post your recipe here!
The Way Mama Used to Make
Entry by Rudy Nuwayhid
We have some experience with olive curing. Some of our trees in mount Lebanon (Mideast) are over 100 years old. In our house, we like to pick the best olives while still green. We then soak then in water for two to three days. We prepare the brine by adding rock salt to clean water until a raw egg floats and then we add a teaspoon of citric acid to the brine (per two liter brine). The olives are cut on two sides (wounded) and put in to clean 2 liter jars bit by bit while placing a slice of fresh lemon on the jar side as we go up. When nearly full we add the brine until coverage and put a couple of bay leaves on top with a slice of lemon too. We top the lot with some olive oil and close the jar (sealed). The jar is placed aside in a dark store and may be used as soon as a few months away or even the next year.
Entry by J.S.
We have been curing olives since I was a kid. Cured and sealed the keep for years is a cool, dark place. We still have olives my mother cured in 1994 - they are delicious. We pick Green, half ripe or green ripe and ripe. We use the large Tuper... tubs. Place the olives in the tubs, since thoroughly by flooding, stirring and pouring off the water several times to remove any foreign particles. Finally, cover the olives with one inch of water and pour salt over the olives until they begin to float. Put a plate or other non-corrodable weight on top of the olives to be sure they stay submerged. Change the solution every four to six days as needed. If you see bubbles at the edge of the plate change the solution. After about four or five changes the bitterness should be reduced to the point you desire. Taste one to see if the flavor is as you desire. Black olives generally need to be put up in olive oil... Lemons may be used...or garlic or herbs such as rosemary, bay leaf, tarragon, celery, etc. Green olives may be put up in brine or vinegar brine several ways. You may sprinkle finely chopped carrots and celery throughout and perhaps a few small cloves of garlic. Also bay leaves, and fresh rosemary. We can't buy olives as good as we make so when we moved away from our olive source we started being frugal with our supply, hence a few jars from 1994 (we have eaten some that were as old as nine years and they were great) We just found a new source of olives and we are making a new batch - hmmmm good! OleJer
Entry by JCS
Pack ripe (black) olives loosely in course salt (50% salt, 50% olives) for 7 to 10 days or more. Turn and shake them once a day. When the salt is all wet it has done its' job. I like to dump out the old salt and do it a second time for an extra strong cure but this is a little strong for most people. After they've cured, rinse off the salt and let them sit for an hour or two to let all of the water drain off. Pack them in canning jars with a few cloves of fresh garlic and a few pepper corns and virgin olive oil. Keep them in the fridge. I had my last batch for over a year and they just tasted better the longer they sat.
Good luck. jcs
Use olives that are mature but still green. Purchase Iye in the "cleanser" section of your grocery store.* Rinse the olives with water and place them in large glass or porcelain jars; then determine how much lye solution you need to cover the amount of olives you have. Add a solution that has been mixed at the ratio of 1 quart water (at 65 to 70 degrees F.) to 1 tablespoon Iye. Soak 12 hours.
Drain olives; then soak 12 more hours in fresh Iye solution. Drain and rinse. Cut into the largest olive; if the Iye has reached the pit, the Iye cure is complete. Rinse again and soak in cold water. (Usually two Iye baths are enough for the small Mission olives seen in specialty produce stores.) If one more bath is necessary, soak in fresh lye solution for 12 more hours; then drain and rinse with cold water. Soak the olives in fresh, cold water, changing the water three (or more) times a day for the next three days. At the end of three days, taste an olive to make sure that there is no trace of lye flavor remaining.
Next, soak the olives for at least one day in a brine solution mixed at the ratio of 6 tablespoons salt to 1 gallon water. The olives are now ready for eating. Store the rest in the brine solution in a cool, dark place, preferably the refrigerator, or marinate and store in the refrigerator. Use within two months.
* WARNING: Lye can cause serious burns. Keep lemon or vinegar handy to neutralize any lye that splashes onto the skin. If lye gets into your eyes, bathe them with running water and call your doctor. If lye is swallowed, call your doctor, drink milk or egg white, and do not induce vomiting.
"This pungent recipe was given to me by a Spanish gypsy; it is almost identical to the method for making the green olives of Provence called olives cassées." --Maggie Blythe Klein
5 pounds green mature olives
1-1/2 quarts water
3 tablespoons salt
2 lemons, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
2 tablespoons dried oregano
2 cups white wine vinegar
6 cloves garlic, peeled and halved
2 tablespoons cumin seeds, crushed in a mortar
Crack the flesh of the olives with a rolling pin, or by hitting each one individually with a hammer. Rinse with cold water. Place them in a stoneware, earthenware, glass, or porcelain jar and cover with cold water. Weight them with a piece of wood or a plastic bag filled with water (to keep the olives submerged) and keep them in a dark, cool place for ten days, changing the water every day.
Boil the water and dissolve the salt in it. Empty the liquid from the jar in which the olives have been soaking; rinse the olives in cold water and cover the olives with the salt brine. Mix in the lemons, oregano, vinegar, garlic, and cumin. Float enough olive oil on top to cover the surface. Store in a cool place at least two weeks. To make a more interesting mixture, add a few store-bought Kalamata olives. Store in a cool, dark place. The olives keep quite well for at least two months.
The Author says:
For this recipe, choose olives that are red to dark red. Slash each olive deeply on one side using a very sharp knife to reduce bruising. Place olives in a large stoneware, earthenware, glass, or porcelain container. Make a solution of 4 tablespoons salt dissolved in 1 quart water, and pour enough over the olives to cover; then weight the olives with a piece of wood or a plastic bag filled with water so that all of them are completely submerged. Store in a cool place, changing the solution once a week for three weeks. If a scum forms on the surface during that time, disregard it until it is time to change the brine; then rinse the olives with fresh water before covering with brine again. The scum is harmless. At the end of three weeks, taste one of the largest olives. If it is only slightly bitter (these olives should be left with a bit of a tang), pour off the brine and rinse the olives. If the olives are too bitter to be put in the marinade, rebrine and soak for another week; then rinse and marinate. Then marinate them with the proper amount of liquid to cover in a marinade made according to these proportions:
1-1/2 cups white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon salt dissolved in 2 cups water
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
3 lemon wedges
2 cloves garlic
Float enough olive oil to form a l/4-inch layer on top of the marinating olives. The olives will be ready to eat after sitting in the marinade for just a few days. Store, still in the marinade, in a cool pantry, or in the refrigerator. If kept too long, the lemon and vinegar flavors will predominate. So eat these within a month after they are ready.
This is the method I use most often. It is arguably the most popular. Some people love this method for it's ease and convenience and for the yummy fruit it delivers. Others find the method strips the olive of much of it's potential flavor & some may be hesitant to work with Lye in general.
Directions: Find a good size glass bowl, wooden bucket or barrel, or in some instances a new clean plastic 5 gallon bucket may be used. Do not use plastic containers without being sure it is durable against deteration from the lye. For instance I tried to use a Blue plastic tub once, my olives came out blue & yucky. I have been successful with laundry detergent buckets.
Fill bucket with water 3/4 way full. Add about 5 - 6 heaping table spoons of Lye and stir with stick. Once Lye has dissolved add green olives. Let sit 12hrs. Use rubber glove and squeeze 1 olive
(A) - If softening cut with knife. If flesh is tender and pulls away from seed easily olives are ready to drain & rinse, drain & rinse until water runs clear. If not ready leave in Lye solution for an additional 6-12 hrs then check again. Expect most lye baths to take at least 24hrs. In most cases it can take up to three days or so.
(B) - If not softening and still hard or very firm Leave in lye solution for an additional 12hrs. After 12hrs. use rubber gloves and squeeze 1 olive to see if it has begun to soften. If so see step (A), if not add 1-2 additional tablespoons of lye and stir water to dissolve lye. Check every 6 -12hrs. for softening. When softening begins refer to (A) above.
* Do not let get too soft or squishy. Olive should be somewhat firm and hold shape well. Should never feel scaly or slimy. Flesh should only be tender enough (or soft enough) to pull away from seed (similar to the way an avocado pulls away from it's seed) when cut. Inside skin against seed should still hold indent without being squishy.
Let olive sit in clean water for 3-4 hrs and drain water & refill, drain & refill, until water runs clear. Repeat this process no less than 3 times and up to as many as 7 times a day. The more often you repeat this process the quicker your olives will be ready. Repeat for at least three days. Continue until water no longer seems colored when it's time to drain. Test olives readiness by placing nose close to olive and smelling. If no lye smell is detected pierce skin with teeth. If you taste soap or bitterness spit out & rinse and spit. Repeat drain & rinse of olives several times for an additional day. Then test for bitterness again. Repeat these steps until no bitterness is detected. When no soap or bitterness is detected olives are ready for salt brine.
Brine Solution; Boil water in pot add a couple table spoons of ice cream rock salt (usually found in your local grocery store) stir until salt has dissolved. Fit olives into glass jar. Pour brine solution into jar leaving 1/4-1/2 inch from top. Store in frigerator for 24hrs. Taste olive.
* If too salty pour out 1/2 brine and fill jar with water. To eat olives immediately and lessen salty taste pour into bowl add cold water let sit for 10min. drain. Should be ready.
* If not salty enough make additional brine stronger by using an additional tablespoons of rock salt according to taste. Pour out 1/2 brine in jar and replace with new brine. Let sit 24hrs. Enjoy!
Soak raw olives in a large glass container. Like a glass pitcher or mixing bowl.
Add 2 T. of Lye for two days. Test olives for tenderness. Remember they can continue to process after rinsing.
Rinse for with fresh water three times a day for five days.
Place two cloves of garlic one at bottom of jar one at top.
1/4 of jar filled with vinegar
fill 3/4 with olives
top off jar with water to lid line
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