Home-Cured Olives

The bright green olives arrived in a box.  Super Colosal Sevillanos from California, just picked.  Fresh olives are in season in the fall and are available to purchase online if you don’t happen to live near an olive grove.  This is a fun project you can do with your whole family.
What surprised me most was how lovely and bright green these olives were. So tempting.
But olives must be “cured” in order to remove the extreme bitterness. After doing some research, I found a way that would leave the olive bright green much like the popular castlevatrano olive. Mild, fruity, bright, buttery and lightly salted.  The difficult part was getting my head around it.
It involves lye.
The scariest part of using lye is actually buying it from the hardware store.  It’s generally sold as drain opener.  Just make sure before you purchase a bottle of lye, that it contains 100% lye (100% sodium hydroxide) and no other additives.
It sounds very intimidating but is actually quite simple.  If you are skeptical about lye, I highly recommend you read this.  It is surprising how much it has been used to preserve food over the years.
In a nutshell, you mix lye powder with cold water and then carefully submerge your olives in the mixture for 12 hours.

Initially, I used gloves when mixing…. but I found that after the lye is in contact with water, it really can’t hurt you. Its only the dry lye power that can burn your skin. Truly, it is not as scary as it seems.
Besides the lye, all you really need is a large crock or glass jar….and some good salt. This gave me a good excuse to actually use my crock for what it was intended.  Normally it holds kitchen utensils.
I made the lye water bath at night and left the crock in my sink over night.
In the morning they were ready to be rinsed.
Then, for the next few days, rinse the olives a couple times a day to remove the lye.  After 4 days of rinsing the olives they were ready to put in a light salt brine.  Pour the salt brine over the olives in the crock again and leave them on the counter for another 4 days. And that is it. They are done…. and taste amazing!
After draining the brine, I gathered some jars I had around the house, sterilized them and filled them with the olives.
A couple of my friends who were also curing olives purchased these very cute Weck Canning Jars to can their olives…. and they were so cute.  You can see them here at Crate and Barrel.

After filling all the jars, pour another cold salt water brine over the olives
and placed them in the fridge.
One important thing to remember is to use a good quality salt. Even Kosher salt is discouraged.
We had some sea salt on hand that Brian lightly smoked in the smoker this summer
and we used it in the final brine.
 Bay leaves were added to a couple of the jars.
Add sprigs of  fresh herbs like thyme or rosemary,
 and lemon zest or garlic cloves or even chili pepper
to create the flavors you want. Be creative.
These make great gifts.
To serve, drain and drizzle them with a good quality olive oil.
Serve with your favorite cheese, cured meat and crackers…or eat them right out of the jar.
This turned out to be a fun project.

Here is the recipe I used:

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  1. says

    So cool! I eat olives all the time but since Scandinavia isn´t exactly a place to grow olives I rarely get to se them fresh, will try to try this though.

  2. says

    I just discovered your blog (thank you, foodgawker), and I am enamored! (As you can tell, I made it all the way from the Parsnip Gratin back to here…and then beyond.) The abundance and quality of photos is wonderful. I am especially happy to have found this post as I’ve been curious about working with lye for a while, but hadn’t really come across the proper inspirational reassurance. So glad I happened upon your site!

  3. Robyn says

    Thanks very much for this informative blog. Like Carey, I was always a bit unsure about using drain opener with my olives. Could you please tell me how much lye you use per US gallon (3.8Litres)?

  4. Dave Higgins says

    Hi there Sylvia,I am from South Africa and for the love of olives cannot find a product called Lye, is there by any chance a substitute that could be used with same result.Your advice and opinion would be greatly appreciated .Thank you.

    • Sylvia Fountaine says

      Dave, I don’t know of a substitute…Im so sorry!! Did you check the hardware store? It must say 100% lye on the bottle with no other additives.

      • Tom says

        Sodium Hydroxide is the scientifically accurate name for lye.

        It’s fairly cheap to buy food grade lye on the internet, I just bought two pounds (almost one kilogram) for about $16US including shipping, July 2015.

        It’s a good idea to use food grade if you can because even 100% lye drain opener might contain trace amounts of toxic heavy metals, etc. including lead.

        You’ll have lotsof lye left over for other food projects – most notably pretzels (that’s how they get that amazing brown color – by dipping them in lye water before baking). Many asian foods also use a lye bath.

        It’s also good for cleaning very heavily baked on grease on ovenware and oven parts, no matter how thick the layer is. Finally, you can still use it for drain cleaner.

        Just follow the proper safety precautions, otherwise it actually is very dangerous. Many, many sites list safe procedures for using lye, but the most important are:
        1.) Safety gear: gloves and eye protection and even a mask if you might be tempted to sniff fumes before you think about it.
        2) Pour the lye into the water. NEVER put the lye in a container first and pour water on top of it -NEVER!
        3) Rememeber the leftover liquid might still be strong stuff after you use it. Be careful of how you dispose it.
        4) Keep young children far far away.

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