We have a Kalamata tree in the backyard that’s about 15 years old. Each year it gives us a good crop of olives without too much effort. If we don’t water or fertilise it, we still get a good crop. This year we had a huge crop and interestingly I don’t think it was due to the long wet summer because the tree by spring was absolutely loaded with thousands of babies. It was clear in spring that it was going to be a bumper crop. Last winter was quite warm and maybe that had something to do with it.
Olives are a declared weed in South Australia under the Natural Resources Management Act. They grow in many Adelaide parks and conservation areas freely. These wild olives can be collected for pickling or making oil, just make sure they haven’t been poisoned by some well meaning land care group. There are literally thousands of wild olive trees loaded with fruit right now ready for picking. Cultivated olives aren’t too much of a problem as long as all the olives are collected. This minimises it’s spread into the hills by the birds. Although I think the cat is well out of the bag on that front.
I’ve been collecting a bucket from our tree a week or two apart. I’m already up to my fourth 10 litre bucket and will probably get another two or three buckets. In hindsight, this has been a very good experiment to find the ideal time to harvest the olives for flavour and texture. I didn’t mean for it to be an experiment, I’ve just been super busy and that’s how it’s worked out. I hear the best time to pick is when the tree is 80% has turned black and 20% is still green. Then you go back when the last 20% has turned black and do the rest. When Kalamata are picked too late they go soft and aren’t as nice.
This year I am doing some Zen processing of the olives – which pretty much means I’ll find a way to process them in the limited time I’ve got however that unfolds. First, I am soaking them in a 10% salt and water mix for about a week or two then straining. Then preparing a fresh batch of the 10% brine to soak for another week or so. I’ll keep doing this until they taste ok. Then when they’re ready I’ll store in a brine using my mother in laws recipe.
100 g salt per litre of water
20ml red wine vinegar per litre of water
Top jar with olive oil
When ready to eat open jar and keep in fridge, you can add oil, spices, herbs and garlic – whatever you have on hand in the garden.
It’s also nice to hot roast the olives with wild fennel seeds, orange peel and olive oil. Serve warm.