Generations of Greek-Style Salt Brining

Learn how to adapt a traditional method of curing fresh olives in the sea to a simple salt brine fit for your kitchen.

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Olives straight off the tree are mouth-puckeringly bitter. But transformed through brining or dry salting, they become the delicious morsels we’re familiar with.

The Origin of Your Olive

If you’re lucky enough to live where olive trees grow — anywhere with a Mediterranean climate, including California, the Middle East, North Africa, parts of Australia, parts of Central and South America, and of course, Italy, Spain, France, Turkey, and Greece — then you can easily cure your own. If you don’t live in any of those places, don’t despair; you can find raw olives in late fall in some big city gourmet stores. (For example, New York City folks can get them at the Grand Central Market from November through early December.)

The Original Olive Brine

Although I grew up in California, I’ve spent most of my life in northeastern America, where olive trees can’t grow because the winters are too cold. But Papou, my Greek grandfather, used to cure his own olives. I visited him in Greece a few times when I was a kid.

Getty Images/TommasoT

I remember him cutting a slit down each raw olive lengthwise, which is what I do today. Then he’d put the olives in a mesh bag and hang them over the edge of the pier in front of his house. There they’d be washed by the salty waters of the Gulf of Patras for a few weeks, during which time the bitterness would leach out of the olives.



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