Dec 152010


Long ago and far away, a friend and I would drive up to the Meron hills and pick olives from abandoned trees there. But since moving to the center of the country, I buy raw olives in the shuk. Any shuk. This past September, it was the Ramleh shuk.



It’s a long process, curing olives, but not a lot of work. The first thing you have to do is find yourself a good rock.  A rock with a good heft, one that the hand closes around comfortably.

It’s for cracking the olives. I found a likely one in a field near my building and brought it home to wash. It looks like a loaf of sourdough bread, but it’s a rock, and it crushes my olives fine. (The white bloom on it appeared after I poured boiling water over it and then rinsed it with vinegar).


My usual recipe calls for simply packing the olives in brine, but I was curious to try Sarah Melamed’s method with vinegar, so that’s what I did. The result was a little too vinegary for my taste, but after a second brining with fresh herbs, the olives, with only a hint of vinegar, the olives were a savory treat.

You’ll only need a big jar and water the first week. So get yourself a clean rock and a kilo or two of raw green olives to start. Look for signs of ripening among the olives you buy – some will have turned darker.

Rinse the olives and drain. Discard any spoiled ones. Crush them with your handy-dandy rock, a few at a time, and put them in the jar.  Some will escape and fly around the kitchen, of course, but just pick ‘em up, rinse again, and keep going. Take it easy, though – the weight of the rock should be enough to just crack the olives, not smash them to bits.

Actually, you don’t have to do the rock thing. If you have a meat-tenderizing mallet, that’ll work fine.

Cover the fruit with water. Make sure there are none floating – weigh them down with a small saucer or drape plastic wrap over the surface of the water to keep them under. Change the water every 24 hours. Do this for a week.

The olives will lose their bright color and take on a drabber, khaki shade. This is good – it means that their bitterness is leaching out. When the olives are uniformly darker, taste them to judge if they’re ready for brining. If they’re still bitter, soak them and change the water for another few days.

Once the olives are ready, drain them and put them in a large bowl while washing out their jar. Make a brine. This is:

10 grams of salt for every 100 ml. of water or  7 tablespoons of salt per half-cup of water.

For every 4 cups of brine, add 1/2 cup of apple cider vinegar. Mix well.

Replace the olives in the clean jar. Pour the salt/vinegar brine over all. Add 1 sliced lemon or lime,  hot red peppers,  garlic cloves, sprigs of rosemary or thyme, black pepper, bay leaves, allspice, or grape leaves – to taste and depending on what you have in your kitchen at the time.

Cover the olives with plenty of olive oil to exclude air and prevent spoilage. Close the jar. Leave it alone for a month, then taste an olive every week or so till you’re satisfied. For me, it took 8 weeks. If you like them the way they are, serve them as is. If, like me, you prefer a salty taste to vinegar, drain them, make a new brine as above without the vinegar, and put them back in the jar with fresh herbs and a new layer of olive oil to cover them. After a week or two, they’ll be ready, and just keep improving over time.


Keep your olives in a cool, dry place.  How to serve them?

  • Eat them alone, as a nosh or appetizer.  A little fresh, chopped parsley, cilantro, or basil, mixed into the bowl of olives you intend to eat right away, is a very nice thing. Or:
  • Chop some into dishes that use chopped meat, like picadillo, meat loaf, or hamburgers
  • Add whole olives to braised chicken 10 minutes before serving
  • Or to potatoes
  • Or  to rice
  • Or add some chopped to an omelet…the world is yours with these olives.


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  26 Responses to “Pickling Olives At Home”

  1. Now you’ve really gone and done it, and I want to cure my own olives too! Any chance of getting the fresh ones still, or is the season over already?

  2. I like the bit of vinegar, I usually use between 7-10% of it and it isn’t too overwelming for me. Since I don’t store my olives in a very cool place (in the summer there isn’t any and there’s no room in the fridge for it) this helps protect it. I am actually still eating the olives I made last year!

  3. Oh, yum! How did your black olives turn out?

  4. My kids and I pickled 3 types of olives this year. We picked green olves back in may, sliced them with a knife, and soaked in water, changing daily for a week. I didn’t crush them with a rock because I needed to go through them one by one as very many were infested by bugs.
    I then put them in a salty brine with citric acid and bay leaf for about 3 months, and then they were yummy. I read to cover them with a small layer of olive oil, so I did that.

    Then I picked olives that were turning black and divided them into two batches. The ones that were black I mixed with some coarse salt, which leeched out their bitterness. Then I put them in a vinegar brine.
    The ones that were green with a tiny bit of purple, I cracked and put in salty brine for 2 weeks, changing the salt water in the middle. Those were ready quite quickly.

    My favorite were the black olives. Unfortunately theres none left. There’s none left of the third kind. We’re still eating the green olives that we picked back in may though.

  5. That was ambitious! Where did you go to pick olives?

  6. Mirj, for some reason this comment went to my spam folder. Olive season was over by the time you asked – at least, I didn’t see any more fresh olives in the shuks I visit. Next year!

  7. My kids went on a “tiyul” where we live and picked olives. They brought them home with directions on how to pickle them in Hebrew. I did my best to follow the directions (which were a little vague–they just said “harbeh” salt…umm, how much is harbeh?), and the bottles have carbonation in them–like soda. Is that normal/okay? They also have a white build-up on the bottom of the bottle (maybe the salt?). I’m a little afraid to eat them, because I didn’t really know what I was doing! Thanks for this recipe, though–I’ll be refering to it next year for sure!

  8. Hi, Sarah,

    It sounds like your bottles were tightly closed. The fizz comes from fermentation that didn’t escape the liquid. I don’t know what “a lot” is – I do a 10% salt solution. The powdery stuff at the bottom may be excess salt or it may be dust off the olives if they weren’t rinsed at the start, or it may be something else. Since I don’t know exactly how you pickled the olives, I can’t tell you more than that. But if you think there’s something wrong with the olives, throw them out.

  9. Thanks Mimi,

    The directions said to rinse and then soak in water for a week, changing it each day, like you said. (I think I actually did it for about a week and a half.) Then the “recipe” said to put some lemon slices, garlic, and olive oil, layered with the olives, and cover with the salty water. I didn’t realize the bottle tops had to be loose. I tasted the olives again this week (it’s been about 4-5 weeks I think) and they actually tasted better. So maybe I’ll hold on to them for a little while and see what happens.

  10. I have just started to learn to pickle olives. I put them in water for a week, and replaced the water every day. I have just bottled them in two ways a) In a plain brine water solution and b) a brine water solution with lemon juice and garlic. I tasted 3 days after bottling and then again today. Wow, they are still SO bitter! I am about to start bottling more and wondered if you could give me advice on WHY they are still so bitter? Also, I see that you should not CLOSE the lids tightly. Is this correct? I would appreciate your advice.

  11. Heidi, the olives are still bitter because they need more time in daily-changed brine. Sometimes plain water isn’t enough. Some of the bitterness must have leached out by now, but salt will help, so try a fresh daily brine soak for another week.

    The reason not to close the lids is because a little fermentation always occurs and if the fermentation gases aren’t allowed to escape, there will be lots of foaming and possibly a huge POP when you remove the lid.

    Don’t worry – keep changing that water and the olives will be great.

  12. Thank you so much for your quick response! I am definitely going to try that, and will let you know how I go. This is our first real year with reaping the fruit. We started planting olive trees three years ago, and have approx 1400 in the ground. We have a combination of Mission, Frantoio and Coratina.

  13. I just developed an interest in pickling olives. I live in Texas and there has been new interest in growing olive trees here. Hopefully, I haven’t missed the season! I look forward to trying your recipes.

  14. Melissa, Texas has great grapes for wine – and now olives too. Lucky for you! I always run out of my own olives before the next season and keep promising myself to pickle more next time. We eat them as is, cooked with arroz con pollo, sliced into omelets, all kinds of ways. Pickle lots, and have lots of fun.

  15. Hi Miriam
    i was delighted to find your beautifully written and photographed site.(I am already a Miriyummy blog fan). I planted an olive tree five years ago, and this is my first crop of beautiful green/black olives. My husband makes his own Cabernet Sauvignon wine and we grow our own oranges, lemons and herbs so this will be a real thrill for us.
    I’m just now putting the cracked olives in jars with water. Does it need to be boiling/boiled water?
    Shabbat Shalom

  16. Katie, I hope this catches you in time. No, the water should not be boiled or hot. Tap water will do. Shabbat shalom!

  17. This was the first year I made our own olives- black ones from Tzfat. I rinsed the olives and cut a slit in each one. I changed the salty water every day and tasted them until the bitterness was gone- it took 2-3 weeks, but worth the work. I then put them in brine with garlic and spices and a layer of olive oil on top and left them to sit- wow they are great!

  18. Loved hearing from you, Chaya. Your olives are delicious, I remember tasting one. Wish I had some of your olives right now!

  19. I am trying to pickle my first lot of olives this year. As we are in the southern hemisphere growers are just harvesting now.
    The recipe I have calls for 6 days (for green olives or 4 days for black) covered by fresh water and drained and refreshed each day with lid loose. On the 7th day drain and replace fresh water with a brine solution of 10%.
    The olives stay in this brine for as long as you want (4 – 8 weeks ). The brine needs to be covered with a small amount of olive oil to assist in keeping the fruit clean.
    After this the recipe calls for the fruit to be drained again olive oil to cover the fruit. Place garlic or any other flavourings that you wish.
    Wish me luck please. We have an old olive tree (more than 40 years) but it had some disease (large brown spots on leaves and some yellowing of leaves) so we had it cut back VERY hard. It is growing very vigorously now and we will fertiliser it before autumn comes.
    Bye, Beverly

  20. Beverly, your recipe sounds very right. I’m sure you’ll get great-tasting olives. I’m jealous of your olive tree, even with its health problems – which won’t last long, with your treatment. Just yesterday I was strolling around my neighborhood, looking at all the olive and date palms and citrus trees, and thinking how great it is to grow your own fruit.

  21. What a wonderful site you have…. I have two olive trees in my garden, Somerset West, near Cape Town, South Africa. for the first time this year i decided to try bottling myself, as all my friends were doing so off my tree! However, what with one thing and another, one lot of olives have been in water for three weels and the other for four. AND i was unable to change the water for three to five days at a time, because of circumstances….. Now does that mean I cannot, or should not bottle the olives. Should I chuck them or have a go. I still have olives on my trees so could just start all over again.
    look forward to having some EXPERT advice!!!!! p.s. I only used water no salt. Oh the other thing the olives are mostly black but some had a bit of green around the top….. does it matter? as you can tell i am a real novice. I have never bottled anything before.

  22. Lydy, I think you can rinse all your olives and put them into salt, and they’ll be fine. Don’t worry about their color, it’s normal. Go right ahead – all you have to lose is some salt and the time the olives sat around in water. Let me know how they turned out!

  23. hi mimi, a query from down under NZ, where olives we planted have done really well.
    How long would olives keep using this method.
    If preserved hygienically in sterile jars could it be years??

  24. Chris, as long as the olives don’t grow moldy, they should be good. I don’t know how long they’ll keep – any that I preserve are eaten up well within a year.

  25. Hi, Mimi. A question from South Africa. My olives are almost ready to be enjoyed. I would however like to share a few with friends and family, but I am not sure how to re-bottle them. Do I just scoop some into a small jar and pour the “old” brine in with them (obviously sterilized jars) or must I make a new batch of brine with fresh lemon, etc?

    I suppose that the olives will not go bad if I just use the “old” brine and flavorings if the recipient keeps it in a refrigerator, but not sure.

    This will be my first batch and I am very excited to enjoy them.

    Kind regards

  26. Hein, what I do is separate as much as I think I’ll be using and put them in a small jar of fresh water or very light brine, with the flavorings. A few hours later, they’re perfect. I keep them in the fridge if they’re going to sit around for longer than a day. The original batch just waits for me to fish more out next time.

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