What's in Season at the Farmers Markets: Uncured Olives
Felicia Friesema Tehachapi-grown, raw Manzanillos at Walker Farms booth in Pasadena
Local olive growers, or even farmers with just a few remnant olive trees here and there (they've been growing here since the 1800s), are banking on the do-it-yourself vibe in the local food movement (Artisanal LA, anyone?) and are increasingly providing raw-uncured olives for sale at the local markets.
Multi-purpose Manzanillas, super rich and oily Missions, and the dryer Sevillanos are the more common varieties currently available in raw form. Slightly more coveted large-fruit Barounis or small and nutty Picholines require a solid and established vendor relationship to score them raw, as they bring a better price elsewhere. A good way to start one is to prove your worth: cure a batch of Manzanillos or Missions and offer them as a gift. If your olive vendor of choice can't get you what you need, they'll likely know where to send you. This is true for any hard-to-find crop at the markets. Your vendor relationships are your goldmine, and greasing the wheels with a little home-crafted curing is never a bad move.
Felicia Friesema Olives being harvested at CalTech's olive harvest festival - being held Nov. 5th this year.
Mid to late October is the prime season for raw olives (a quiet stroll through CalTech's olive tree-lined pathways in Pasadena guarantees being pelted once or twice this time of year - their olive picking festival is Nov. 5th), and for the die-hard localist, brining or curing one's own olives is right up there with backyard chickens and deciphering the ingredients in Bacon Jam.
The process is lengthy but fairly straightforward, honed over centuries to render a bitter, raw fruit into a rich and flavorful foodstuff. There are many different methods for curing your olives, each dependent upon the type of olive you buy. Manzanillos, good for both oil pressing (when fully ripe) and curing (while still green for Spanish-style olives), are the most flexible and forgiving, and can be cured in oil, brine or even dry cured in salt.
But if you end up with a low-oil Sevillano, your best bet is probably a fermented pickly salt brine. The University of California Division of Agriculture and Resources has a super handy document available on safe home curing of olives. Granted, it's a 26-page snore, but if you can plow through it, then you have the patience for the curing process.