Free your olives!.jpg

Free your olives!


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DO NOT be fooled into thinking that if you have no olive trees you cannot harvest your own olives. The Algarve countryside is littered with olive trees, which, at this time of year are bursting with fruit just waiting to be harvested.

Do not make the mistake of many an estrangeiro of picking an olive straight from the tree and popping it in your mouth. You will be coughing and spluttering within seconds and spitting the bitter fruit out in a most undignified fashion.

To be edible, olives need a certain amount of preparation, which is simple enough but takes time. The up side of this is that many people (your neighbours maybe) can’t be bothered. A friendly chat and a glass of medronho (cup of tea if they’re English) could easily result in you having access to more olives than you can eat in a year.

Indeed many a country walk can be interspersed with olive picking, but be sure to get permission first. Often people will know of abandoned farms where fig and olive rifling is rife, so to speak.


What follows is the tried and trusted method shown to me many years ago by my neighbour, Maria.

1. On a sunny afternoon in late October or early November, when the olives are beginning to fall on their own, carefully pick as many olives as you need.

2. With black olives, cut a slice to the pip with a sharp knife. With green olives, hammer them violently with an old beer bottle on a stone step.

3. Place the olives in a net type bag and place in a water tank where the water is constantly being replenished. Leave for about 10 days. Alternatively you can soak in still water but change the water every few hours.

4. Remove from netting and place in a solution of water and salt. 100g of salt to each litre of water. You can also add some bay leaves, garlic, chillies and whatever herbs you wish. They should store in this solution for at least a month before eating and will still be good for up to a year. When a strange scum appeared on top of the water Maria told me to scrape off and stop being fussy.

5. Before eating, take as many olives as you require from the bucket. Rinse under running water to remove the excess salt. Prepare in whichever way you prefer, mixing with your desired combination of olive oil, garlic, lemon and herbs. As long as the olives are covered in olive oil, they will keep like this for about a month, gradually taking on a more intense flavour.

This method works well, but there are countless other methods for preparing olives. A google search will provide you with many more options.