Wednesday, September 9, 2015

The Olive Tree

When we were shopping around, part of the appeal of this old house were the established fruit trees in the backyard. We must have looked at this house 8 different times, and each time the kids grabbed and ate as many tangerines as they could stand.

Alongside the tangerine tree is a lemon tree, orange tree and grapefruit tree. The weeks after we moved in were spent grabbing lemons, complete with a homemade lemonade stand out front. 

There is also a tree that in winter stands huge: bare, white-boned, skeletal in the middle of the yard. I thought it was dead, and I searched for pictures of it online, trying to figure out what it was and how to remove it.  Six months later, at a July 4th celebration at our home, a friend asked if we had tried our figs yet this year.

Our skeletal tree was no longer merely branches but was sprouting elephant-ear leaves bigger than my head, and - we hadn't even noticed! - large figs ripe for the eating. We picked bowl after bowl of figs, making goat cheese and fig bruschetta. Eating them raw. 

I searched for homemade fig newton recipes only to find that the window for figs had passed. The early bird songbirds weren't there to wish us good morning each day. They were eating every last one of the figs from the tree. Next year I'll be ready sooner. 

It was a few weeks ago that we remembered our realtor had mentioned the huge tree in the front yard was an olive tree. We joked about making our own olive oil, and picking olives. Turns out, we weren't that far off. The tree was ripe with huge green olives ready for picking.

But not ready for eating. Just ask The Hubs. Apparently, they are incredibly bitter fresh off the tree. 

We watched a few YouTube videos (which is how we do all our DIY stuff around here) and discovered that making your own olives is a long and arduous process. Soaking for three months, changing out the water they soak in, then canning.......Boo.

Then we stumbled across a video that cur the soaking time to EIGHT DAYS. And the preserving process to three months. It didn't get my olives done for my Sunday Bloody Mary, but it would have to do.

First we picked as many olives as we could. We shook the tree. Put the kids on our shoulders. Climbed - or tried to climb - the tree. We grabbed the orange picker tool to shake out as many as we could. Dozens of olives were ready. Huge ones, small ones, medium ones. After gathering them, we soaked them in two bowls, changing the water 1-2 times a day. This was to draw out some of the natural bitterness.

Next, we went to can. 

The nice part about canning olives is that you don't have to do the whole preserving and canning process. You really just put them in a jar and let them sit. No boiling the lids on, none of the stuff that makes canning jam so complicated.

We gathered all the jars I had collected the last few months and placed olives in them. (Oh yeah, we did put a lemon at the bottom of each jar. Not sure why, but it was in the video we watched, so why not?) After putting in olives about 2/3 of the way or more in each jar, we poured in our water mixture, which was basically 1/2 cup of pickling salt mixed with a quart of water. A drizzle of olive oil covered that.

Then we got creative. In a few of the jars, we left the olives plain, just left them at that. But we added fresh herbs (rosemary and thyme) and jalepenos to the others.

Now we wait. And wait. And wait. For three months they will soak in their juices, just in time to be opened for a Christmas relish tray and Bloody Mary. Life is good at this old house. I'm also saving a few olive branches. Just in case I ever need to extend one.