A crate of raw olives placed just inside the entrance of an Italian green grocer in Chicago at Thanksgiving inspired me to try my hand at brining them at home. I knew I wasn't signing up for an instant-gratification session; in fact, I had no idea what I was signing up for, as I'd never brined olives at home, ever.
I've pickled and fermented and aged and infused. But I've never played with raw olives, though I'd been dreaming about it for a decade (my dreams are all manageably food-oriented) since staying at a house in Northern California that was shaded by a stand of olive trees. I picked one and bit into it and grimaced. It was bitter with oleuropein, a glucoside found in, what else, olives. Without curing, raw olives are impossible to eat (unless you're a raw foodist, then you find ways of making even the worst things vaguely palatable). I hadn't come across raw olives again until this year. And without a recipe, without any ideas, I decided to buy a few pounds and try my hand at curing them at home.
The internet, of course, was a great resource for recipes. I found a basic recipe involving a water cure followed by a salt brine. Oleuropein is only somewhat water soluble, so it takes ten days or so to draw out much of the bitterness after each olive is cracked open (I used a pan as my hammer). Each morning and night I drained off the olives and added fresh water. At the end of the tenth day, I combined garlic, lemon juice, lemon zest, cumin, chilies, and fresh thyme with a salt brine and poured it over the olives. I left out the vinegar and partially replaced it with lemon juice (I should have replaced it entirely. Live and learn!). I covered the top with a little oil (olive oil is a good one to use, but I used sunflower for its neutral flavor) and let it sit out in my very cold kitchen in a pottery crock for two weeks. I checked for mold and skimmed off anything that didn't look right. I then moved the olives in the crock in to the refrigerator for another 2 weeks.
At the end of the four weeks I had a fragrant, tasty, sufficiently salty and delicious olive. They were slightly bruised where I had hit them with the pan, green everywhere else. And I'll certainly try my hand at brining olives again, whenever it is I find raw olives thousands of miles away from the nearest olive grove.