How To Cure Olives

I adore olives. So much so that I’ve planted three trees – Arbequina, Leccino, and a new cultivar called Universal out of the breeding program in Yalta, acquired via One Green World.

Side note: you know how OSU does research programs on various genera to test things like cold hardiness and drought tolerance? Well, they’re about to embark on some trials of olives which I hope will be enlightening and will help to further the industry here. Check out this interesting article in Olive Oil Times from May of 2019. And here’s a link to the Olea Project!

Ok now back to the business at hand. Portland is a reasonably decent climate for olives; there will be variation from year to year but for the last three years, I have managed to successfully cure olives harvested here in the Rose City.

Thanks to this guide from Nichols Garden Nursery, I have a method which I will detail for you in this post.

Step 1: Harvest

In the Northwest anyway, olives are ready for harvest around November. They can, and sometimes do, stay on the trees for longer, but you’ll be battling bird predation (starlings, mostly) as well as the elements, and you want to get them nice and fresh.

Last year I went down to Arizona and visited Queen Creek Olive Mill, where I took the “Olive 101” educational tour and learned quite a lot about how olives are harvested and what difference it makes if they are green vs purple vs black. Basically, it comes down to flavor in oil production, but for our purposes, with salt brining, you can mix them all together regardless of what color they are at harvest and they will all be lovely.

So, pick your olives before the starlings get them and before they fall off the tree.

Just harvested, November 28, 2018. Frantoio variety.
Just harvested, November 29, 2019, unknown variety. Note much more green! This doesn’t matter for salt brining.

Step 2: Water Bath ~ 10 days

Ultimately with salt brining, you’re immersing olives in salted water. But before we do that, we need to soak them in plain water for several days to soften them and reduce their inherent bitterness.

Wash your harvested olives well, and then put them in plain tap water in a suitable container. You will need to change this water (and rinse them) daily for a few to several days. Nichols Garden Nursery’s document linked above says that this should be a 10-day process; I can tell you from my own experience that sometimes, you need fewer days.

What you’re after is for the olives to achieve a softness and a slight darkening in color over the course of their water bath. You’re leaching bitterness, basically. Some factors might contribute to a lessening of the number of days: if the olives are wrinkled from summer/fall drought when you harvest them, they’ll need about half the number of days (so, like 5 instead of 10). If they are harvested later in the season, I’d say that the weather and elements will help with the process of leaching, so if you harvest in late December, figure on a few days less. If you harvest in January, or even February, or later still, cut back the number of days by 2-3 days per month. If you harvest really late, like, April or May, you may not need to leach at all! You gotta play this part by ear a little bit. Or rather, by feel. You’re looking for a softening of the fruit and a color change from bright green to a dull “olive” green.

Here’s what they should look like after soaking in water for 24 hours:

Olives get this foamy stuff on the top of the water after soaking for a day.

So what I do when I rinse them each day is I clean out the sink and set up a big colander:

Then pour them into the colander:

Then rinse with water, and pour them back into the container I’m using to soak them, and refill with fresh tap water.

Step 3: Soak in Salt Water – 4 weeks

When the olives have soaked in the plain water enough, it’s time to transition to salt water. Look at the color difference between these, and the pics above – see how these are much more dull and the above pics the green ones are still really vibrant? Dull = ready for salt. You’ll feel this too – they get a little more soft.

The salt water solution is 1 cup salt (I use either kosher salt or canning/pickling salt; shoot for non-iodized salt) to 1 gallon water. Cold water should absorb that much salt easily.

Then when you put the olives into the salt water, some will float. Don’t worry.

Here’s a comparison shot of what this new batch looks like, having just put them into salt water, vs last year’s cured olives that I still have a few of (in the bowl in front)

Right about the same color! This is how you know it’s time to get them into the brine.

Ok now you’re going to change this salt water once weekly for 4 weeks. Does that mean three changes? Or 4 changes? Again, I want you to feel this out. I would say it’s 3 changes but you can do 4 if you want. It won’t hurt them, and it probably won’t make them overly salty.

What I do at this point is put a date on them, so I know when to change the salt water and when I should consider them done.

The ones in the steel stockpot are still in plain water, but the ones in the plastic container have transitioned to salt already.

Step 4: Transfer to 1/2 strength brine and store

At the end of the 4 weeks of full-strength salt water, now you will put them into a half-strength saltwater solution. 1/2 cup salt to 1 gallon water. In this solution, you can store them on the shelf, or in the fridge if you prefer, I find it makes no difference.

The flavor will improve over time and in a few months, you may notice a mild but delightful smoky flavor from your brined olives. I have noticed this particularly with Arbequina but it has also happened over a longer period of time with Frantoio, which generally seems to have larger fruit. So it might be a variety thing, but I think it’s more likely that the larger fruit size makes it take longer for that delectable smoky flavor to develop.

Ok, that’s all for now! Ask me questions if you have em, in the comments.

June Vegetable Garden Update + Blackcaps

OMG where does the time go!? I’ve acquired a staggering number of new plants in the last month, and I’ve been working to get them all planted.  And of course this is prime time for the vegetable garden and things are really going well.  Here’s an update on some of that.

I seeded carrots and parsnips in here but as seems to be typical of the Apiaceae family in my garden, I got shit for germination.  So I gave up on most of them and set these starts in, which I sowed sometime in maybe April.   Round 2 of lettuce (round 1 is gone, round 3 is just emerging in seed trays in the house).

Chinese cabbage, lettuces, mustard flowering

I sowed these cabbage family babies three weeks ago and they really need to get in the ground, like now. We just harvested all the garlic, so there’s an entire bed awaiting them.  I will have to fence it or the ducks will eat these.

Brassicaceae for winter

The super-hot peppers are coming along really well – some are starting to get tall and branch out.  Basil barely visible behind it suffered a chicken attack when I forgot to close the birds in one night, but it’s mostly surviving.

Super-hot Capsicum chinense hybrids (and the two pimientos)

Tomatoes are, as usual, insane.  I can’t wait to compare the grafted ones to the non-grafted ones – I hope there is a noticeable difference (to justify the effort, mostly).

Ananas Noire

These melons look really good.  They really like the wood chip mulch!

Moon & Stars watermelon, other melons

I started several Tagetes lucida plants from seed last year and set them out here and there to trial them and see how they grow in different settings.  I didn’t expect them to make it through the winter, but OMG they all came through.  The “un-scientific” name is Mexican tarragon or Spanish tarragon, and it’s definitely easier to grow than French tarragon.  Of course it’s a completely different plant (same fam, tho), so the flavor is a bit different.  I would say sweeter and more anise-esque.  Mountain Valley Growers did some culinary comparisons you can read about here.

Tagetes lucida.  The owl was a gift from my brother

Now we’re in the front yard, where I have relegated eggplant because of verticillium in the back.  So far, they don’t get it at all out here.  If they do eventually, I’ll have to start grafting them (I got bigger grafting clips, too, because I’m probably going to do it next year regardless).

Leeks, eggplants, Tropaeolum because I object to using another genus as a common name, damn it

The taller eggplants in the back are Millionaire and the shorter ones in front should be Prosperosa.  And yeah, that’s Geranium ‘Rozanne’ doing her thing in the upper right.

I should probably make this next bit its own post but I’ve already done all this so, whatever.  Behold:

Rubus leucodermis

No sane gardener would ever grow our native blackcap in their backyard on purpose.  I swear.  What the hell am I thinking? Well, if you’re not familiar with it, let me tell you about this absolutely wonderful western native plant.  Bullet points for you speed-readers.

  • Doesn’t get those damned fruit flies (spotted-wing drosophila)
  • Fruits start ripening in early June and continue well into July
  • Fruits on old wood (floricane-fruiting)
  • Thorns are recurved, so they grab you a bit, not horribly
  • Gorgeous white bark, really cool looking in winter
  • Spreads by tip-layering, not by runners
  • Supremely climate-adapted and needs no supplemental water, ever
  • Vigorous to the point of OMGWTF if you don’t watch it
  • Fruit flavor is less tart. less bright, more complex, maybe sweeter? And they’re a bit seedier which I don’t mind.

So what I do, is I treat the thing just like a normal raspberry, except for the tip-layering bit (do not permit unless someone wants a plant).  And the watering (none).  When the floricanes are done, I’ll cut them out at ground level, and at the same time I’ll prune the primocanes back by about half – if I don’t do that they will eat things like my neighbor’s house, and pruning them encourages them to branch a lot, so then I get a more compact-shrubby plant instead of a 20′ long bramble.  Like any raspberry you absolutely cannot leave this plant alone and expect it to behave.  But aside from that, in my book it scores well above normal raspberries (which, as previously mentioned, are all coming out this year).

Here’s the whole plant – see the tall primocanes with the glorious white “skin”? On left, lower, are the floricanes which looked just like these primocanes last year at this time until I shortened them by about half. I’ll have to reduce the number of them this year, too.  Eventually this plant will get some form of support structure.

Evidence of house-eating potential

When/if these primocanes touch ground, they will root.  Right through grass and mulch and everything.  I’m helping this one so my friends Kate and Katie can have a plant.

tip-layering, with assistance (totally unnecessary but speeds the process)

Blackcaps are delicious

I don’t remember when I discovered these, as a kid, or who (Mom? probably, native Oregon kid that she is) turned me onto them.  But I do remember, every summer, going up into the woods and finding them at the edges of forests, and in clearings.  I had two particularly good patches and if I ended up encountering them unintentionally I’d have to use my shirt, or my hat, or whatever I could find (Acer macrophyllum leaf?) to hold them, because neither patch was particularly close to the house and, being a lazy-ass Taurus, I wasn’t about to actually go back and get some kind of bucket.  We made freezer jam with them whenever sis TJ and I would pick enough.  Rarely straight blackcap jam, though – the best was to mix them 50/50 with red raspberries from the garden. – that was everyone’s favorite.

Freezer jam is the best because, since it’s uncooked, the flavor is much more true to the berry.  I asked Mom about her recipe and what she said is that she generally followed whatever was on the Sure-Jell pectin box.  Pectin and pectin-type products vary a bit in terms of what’s in them, and how they recommend going about it, so the things to remember are (god I love bullet points):

  • Don’t use a sugar substitute, or try to use less sugar than the directions call for. This will invariably lead to disappointment.  If you want to preserve fruit but not with sugar, just freeze the fruit whole and you can make a simple compote in January with the frozen berries and little to no sugar.
  • If the recipe says to strain some or all of the fruit to reduce the seeds, it’s optional, and you should experiment to see what you like.  I would definitely strain a straight blackcap jam, but I might not strain it at all (or just strain the blackcaps) if it’s half and half.
  • Do not skimp or cut any corners with whatever the recipe says with regard to stirring and/or letting the fruit stand.  You want to make damn sure all the sugar gets dissolved completely and all the pectin does whatever it’s supposed to do.
  • If the recipe calls for lemon juice, know that it’s not like adding lemon juice or citric acid to a low-acid fruit for shelf-stable canning.  In other words, lemon juice is mostly for flavor, and may help with the jelling process, but it’s not needed for preservation.
  • Use whatever containers you want but again, since you’re just freezing, you don’t need actual canning jar lids and rings.  A good seal helps prevent freezer burn.  I like actual freezer jam jars with the colored plastic lids the best.

All right, now I feel weird because I’ve strayed dangerously close to the food-blog corner, so just to assure myself and you all that this is still really about plants, here’s another plant picture – The stems of R. leucodermis, as mentioned, look absolutely ghostly and really cool in winter.


Peppers, this year and last year.

Last year was a fantastic year for peppers and I think this year will be even better.  I got almost all the plants I am going to grow into the ground yesterday:

34 plants in this 4′ x 10′ bed

The one plant I overwintered went in as well.  This is a sweet pepper called ‘Yum Yum Gold’ from Territorial Seed.  It wasn’t my favorite variety of all we grew last year; it was just the one plant that was easiest to get at to dig out of the ground and transfer to a pot for the overwintering experiment.  It continued to flower and fruit throughout the winter.

Yum Yum Gold

It tended to go in batches.  Just finishing one up now:

Ripens brilliant orange.

Of GREAT INTEREST to me is that when I first set pepper plants out, ostensibly to harden off to both direct sun and cold, I usually have to be quite careful especially with direct sun or leaves will get sunscald.  The ONLY plant that experienced any scald at all was this one I overwintered.  And you know what? I barely protected them.  Their first day out was a mostly sunny day and all I did was throw some shade cloths (okay burlap sacks and old patio mats) over the hoop house for a few hours midday.  Their second day was all-out sun.  No scald.  Remarkable? I think so!

Eggplants, and peppers for distribution

The plants above are all 10 of my eggplants and all the peppers I’m hoping to find homes for.  Look, NO sunscald! I attribute this to my new T5 light in the garage. That thing is clearly as bright as the sun! Or damn close.  Also, when the light goes off in the garage at night it gets cold – almost as cold as outside.  So this year’s hardening off process was made much, much easier by that setup. The same thing happened with the tomatoes, by the way; I just didn’t document it.  I’m thrilled.

The one plant that did get sunscald is the overwintered one – it was in my office grow-closet under a (much further away and smaller) T5 and a red/blue LED.  That apparently didn’t prepare it as adequately for direct sun – here’s the result:

It’ll be fine – it’s a big plant and can afford to lose some leaf.  Those little guys just don’t possess the photosynthetic real estate for this.

Another fun happening is that ALL the peppers from the garage are flowering, and some are already fruiting.

BIG flowers on ‘La Bomba’ Jalapeño

Flowers and a tiny fruit! This is ‘Alma’ paprika – new one this year and I’m excited about it.

Unbelievably early fruit on ‘Sarit Gat’ which is one of my favorites. Ripens brilliant yellow and hot as hell.

Here’s where I was last year with this lovely family of plants – as you can see, things are ahead this year.  I sowed earlier this year and they grew much better under the garage T5.  On the far right, top, all those little peppers are the super-hots (Carolina Reapers and such).  I gave all those to my pepper-fiend friend shortly after this and he said he didn’t have much luck with them.  So this year, I’m growing them out…

Solanaceae and some melons, May 3 2017

And here are the super-hots this year:

L-R: Carolina Reaper, Trinidad Scorpion, Chocolate Bhutlah

Here’s what they looked like on April 9, less than a month ago; I was just up-potting them:

Lookit this gorgeous thing.  The leaves of these plants smell like Habanero pepper fruit!  Capsicum chinense hybrids are very different plants than the standard C. annuum we’re all familiar with.  This the first time I’ll be growing them all the way to fruiting…

Chocolate Bhutlah

I may grow the super-hot peppers in pots – or maybe some in pots and some in the ground.  If you caught my “almost all the plants” at the beginning of this post, these are what I was talking about.  Oh and these pimientos, most of which are for another friend.  I’ll give him the six big ones and keep the two smaller ones.

‘Ashe County Pimiento’, seed from Baker Creek

Peppers are almost entirely pest-free for me but interestingly, I have had to deal with aphids and slugs(!) already! These little green aphids have been increasingly problematic in the indoor grow areas.  A new one to me in the last couple years, these are foxglove aphids AKA glasshouse potato aphid. Here they are on this eggplant, which they really love. I’ve been simply washing the plants with water repeatedly, and hand-squishing.

They seem to appear in conjunction with some leaf curling and “savoy-ing” on peppers.  You can really see it here – savoyed/curled on left, mostly normal on right.

I expect the plants will grow out of this because these are foxglove aphids and high temps will kill them, HAHAHAAA! I’ll get this hoop house up to 100F easily and fry their asses.

After leaving the peppers in their pots over two or three nights, when I went to plant them in the ground yesterday I was surprised to find slug damage on ONLY Habanero plants!  What’s up with that? All the Habaneros had lots of slug damage while there was next to no damage on any other pepper.


As you can see I put some sluggo down just around these.  And these girls will help, too.

Ramona and Carmen on slug patrol right after I planted the peppers.

This week we have such fantastic weather, and I am so relieved because that means a) plants will finally actually grow and b) we can finish painting the house!  The house painting project has stalled out a lot of gardening plans, because I don’t want to plant things anywhere near where they would get power-washed or trampled or painted.  Bigger plants are easy enough to tie up and/or wrap in plastic, but new little plants are much harder to watch out for!  And I really can’t wait to get the patio finished so I can get all the patio furniture out of the dang garden where it’s sitting around being an obstacle course, and back to the patio.  And my patio plants, of course, which are all over on the north side of the house for the time being.

A list of all the pepper varieties for 2018:

  • Ashe County Pimiento – a small, heart-shaped pimiento (yeah like for stuffing olives)
  • Alma Paprika – round, thick-walled, no heat
  • Feher Ozon Paprika – longer tapered and ripens from sticky-note yellow to brilliant vermilion
  • Yum Yum Gold – small orange sweet pepper
  • Gatherer’s Gold – sweet banana type, ripens orange
  • Mellow Star Shisito – thin-walled, no heat, for frying
  • Carnival Bell – old seed from Burpee and they ALL came up!
  • Padron – thin-walled, definitely heat, for frying
  • Habanero – slug magnets apparently
  • Habanada – zero heat Habanero, also slug magnets
  • Early Jalapeño – small Jalapeño supposedly earlier than others, this is the only one I’ve grown until this year
  • Purple Jalapeño – which ripens red and has purple leaves, very pretty!
  • La Bomba Jalapeño – I hear it’s a taste-test winner among Jalapeños
  • Sarit Gat – bright yellow scimitars of pain
  • Hatch Valley Red – standard med-hot New Mexico type, seed from my friend in NM!
  • Guajillo – also from same friend, I’m not sure he labeled this right, we’ll see
  • Ancho/Poblano – yey rellenos!
  • Golden Ghost – brilliant yellow ghost pepper do NOT confuse this with shisito they look the EXACT SAME when green (ask me how I know this is a problem)

And from the inedible department:

  • Carolina Reaper
  • Trinidad Scorpion x Trinidad Douglah
  • Chocolate Bhutlah

We’ve decided we like to prioritize a wide variety over an abundance of a single type, so I’m really interested in trying even more new ones for next year. I’d love to hear what are your favorite pepper varieties!!