The Local Table was kindly invited by local grower Maree to harvest eating olives from their grove which is situated within a couple of kilometers of our village. They mostly grow olives for producing oil, but have quite a number of edible olive pollinating trees throughout the grove too. To these we could help ourselves. So on a rainy Sunday, a group of about 20 of us donned raincoats and headed out to the fertile fields of Emerald Glen.
Fresh olives, as it turns out, taste absolutely revolting! Strange really, considering how divinely edible they look when picking them. We picked Manzanilla and Lecchino varieties for bottling in brine. The Manzanillas looked especially tasty like gorgeous juicy little cherry-esk morsels. But one by one I watched each person ignore the best advice and pop one into their mouths… How bad could it be? Surely not!
The taste of a raw olive is pure bitterness, and it lingers in the mouth so that you desperately want to drink water or eat something sweet to counter the awefulness. Anyways, that was our first lesson.
We hand picked bucket loads of the fruit in hope that we could learn how to make them taste good. All the children joined in too, and it’s fair to say we felt like we had joined in on some ancient mediterranean village’s harvest tradition.
Maree also gave us some tips on how to prepare the olives for eating. She recommended scoring the skins of each olive a couple of times and soaking them in fresh water for at least seven days changing the water each day before bottling them in salty brine. The first question on everyone’s lips was “Why do we have to slice the skins?”
And the answer is because the shop ones we all buy are treated with caustic soda to remove their bitterness. We however, are going to de-bitter our olives a little more naturally. Caustic soda is used for a few things besides making olives palatable… for example: in the paper and pulp industry, for textiles, in detergents, and as drain cleaner. None of these applications sound even remotely appetizing, yet who knew it was good for using in our food?!
And somewhere therein lies an answer to why we are running the Local Table. By really getting in touch with how our food is produced, by learning the art of preparing and preserving, we develop a deep understanding and appreciation of what makes for quality, and nourishing food. Learning about the use of caustic soda may well have put a damper on my enthusiasm for bought olives, yet I now have a new appreciation of the time and artisanship that goes into truly good olives.
We have already learned a lot and it feels like the door to a whole world of olivey knowledge has just cracked open. It remains to be seen of course, how well our hand-picked, hand-sliced, home-bottled little flavour bombs turn out. I’m pretty sure though that the wait and anticipation will only add to our delight when tasting day finally arrives.