The Mediterranean climate of the Bay Area makes it perfect for ornamental fruit trees. Trees bursting with fresh fruit is a common sight in my neighborhood. Unfortunately, it’s equally common to see piles of rotting fruit beneath the trees. Waste annoys me (plus free food is awesome), so I usually gather what I can from branches that hang over the sidewalk (the law states that any fruit on branches growing over the sidewalk are public). I’m a novice at urban foraging – you won’t find me eating dandelions or acorns – but who would turn down locally grown, free, fresh fruit?
Like growing your own food, I think there’s something equally liberating about finding it in your environment. My first foraging expeditions were with my Mom, when I was small. In the fall we would pick up pecans that grew in a field near our house. Since then I’ve been gathering food from my environment whenever I come across it.
My most recent foraging haul was from a mission olive tree around the corner from my house, right next to the Buddhist Temple. Mission olives are a black olive that were originally brought to California by Franciscan missionaries. I’ve been waiting for the fruit to ripen for the last few weeks and been doing some research on how to cure the olives. An unfortunate taste-test taught me that olives ARE NOT edible right off the tree. It was indescribably bitter.
There are many ways to cure or ferment olives to make them ready for consumption, but the method that seemed most appropriate for this type of olive is dry curing. Basically, you pack them in salt for a month. Here’s how to do it:
Dry Cured Mission Olives:
Materials: Crate or box, burlap or cheese cloth, salt, and ripe mission olives (dark purple to black).
1. First, make slits in your crate or box, if it doesn’t already have slits.
2. Line the crate with burlap or cheese cloth. Secure in place.
3. Pour in a layer of salt, then put in a layer of olives. Continue until you’ve covered all the olives in salt.
4. Put the crate over a basin to catch the moisture, or put it outside where it won’t get rained on.
5. Wait one week, then dump the contents of the crate into another container. Shake well and return to original crate. Remove any damaged or rotten olives.
6. Repeat step five every 3 days-1 week for 4-6 weeks. The olives are cured when they are shriveled and smaller in size.
7. Separate the olives from the salt.
8. Dunk the olives in boiling water for thirty seconds. This melts the waxy covering on the olives.
9. Dry overnight.
10. Mix with olive oil and spices and refrigerate.
These directions are assuming you harvested a large crop of olives. I followed these same directions on a smaller scale. I used a plastic take-out box instead of a crate and cut slits in the bottom of the container and gave it some air holes on the top. I set it on a cookie sheet to catch drips, the whole thing fit comfortably on top of my fridge. I’ll let you know how they turn out!
Update: The preserved salted lemons turned out pretty amazing. Salty and sour with a note of cinnamon. Expect some recipes with these tasty pickles soon!