This is a busy time of year for families and workers in olive producing regions of the Island and beyond, preparing for the annual Harvest and carefully collecting the olives at exactly the right moment of ripeness. In much of Mallorca it’s a simple but effective process that hasn’t changed in decades. Where most of the olives are picked and destined for the table, it is done painstakingly by hand, as so far no one has come up with a mechanical system that doesn’t bruise and damage the fruit in some way. This is less of a problem, presumably, for olives that are used in production of oil and headed for crushers and bottles.
In the Mediterranean region we are blessed with a staggering 93% of the approximately 800 million olive trees in the world. The humble olive has been around forever (4000Bc) and has the distinction of being the oldest tree in cultivation in the Western Hemisphere. It has been the subject of mythology and a sign of longevity. Its oil has anointed kings, polished finely cut diamonds and been used in medicinal balms and the manufacture of soaps. Good olive oil is judged by its acidity and the highest quality oil, generally has the lowest acidity levels.
Extra Virgin has the highest grade and therefore is the most expensive. Its acidity level must not exceed 1%, or 1g for every 100g of oil. It should also have a great flavour aroma and colour. It is the perfect dressing for salad leaves and should be used sparingly. Virgin olive oil can be just as good, but has a slightly higher acidity level of no more than 1.5%. It can be used in salad dressings and vinaigrette’s and is perfect for emulsifying sauces such as aioli. These two types of oils are simply the juice from the fruit of the olive tree, and as far as I’m concerned, the only true types of olive oil as they are pure and not chemically refined. Ordinary olive oil consists of a blend of refined olive oil and virgin olive oil and is perfect for frying and deep-frying. Refined olive oil is processed with chemicals and solvents, so it should be made clear, that the only natural, chemical-free olive oils are the ones called Extra Virgin or Virgin and unfortunately, this is more often than not very unclear on the labelling of these products. Mallorca now produces some of the very best to be found anywhere in Spain, so look out for the ones that have the D.O (Demominació d’origin) on them for a guaranteed sign of quality.
At this time of the year, I love to buy fresh, green untreated Majorcan olives from local market stalls for pickling. Due to their bitter taste, olives are inedible in their natural state, but once they are pickled in salted water and then marinated in herbs and spices they are delicious. Traditionally, the Majorcans prepare their olives either “senceres” or “trencades”. The recipe for split or crushed olives (olives trencades) is said to come from Roman times. It is an easy recipe to prepare with a few ingredients, but firstly you have to split the olives one by one with a hammer, taking care not to break the pit. You can then leave them to soak for 2-3 days in cold water, changing the water daily.
Drain the olive well, and then fill half the jars with the olives, several pieces of chilli and fennel. Move the pot so that the fennel and chillies are mixed with the olives and add more olives until the jars are filled. Finish by topping the olives with fennel stems so that when you pour in the water the olives do not rise over the waterline. To prepare the water: we fill a container with water; add salt (for each litre of water, calculate 100 grams of salt), you’ll need to stir until the salt is diluted. After you’ve filled the fill the jars with the water, cover them with a tight fitting lid and leave in a cool place. Apparently after ten days you can start eating the olives but I’d recommend consuming them after a few months. When purchasing or picking olives for brining, choose olives that are firm, unblemished and unwrinkled. Once the olives are ready they can be marinated in oil, herbs, lemon and chilli.
Marinated olives with feat and Mediterranean herbs
· 275g green olives
· 150g feta cheese, diced
· 4 anchovy fillets, chopped
· 4 tbsp sherry vinegar
· 2 garlic cloves, crushed
· 200ml olive oil
For the Mediterranean herb mixture
· ½ tsp coriander seeds
· ½ tsp cumin seeds
· ½ tsp dried oregano
· ½ tsp dried rosemary
· ½ tsp thyme
· ½ tsp fennel seeds
· 2 bay leaves
Put all the Mediterranean herb mixture ingredients into a spice grinder or food processor and pulse to a powder. Alternatively, grind in a mortar and pestle. Place all the other ingredients in a bowl, sprinkle with the herb mixture and mix well. Cover and marinate in the refrigerator for at least 20 minutes. They will keep for 5-6 days covered in the refrigerator, but should be brought to room temperature before serving.